What Do Polyphenols Have to Do with Your Oral Health?

We looked before at how the polyphenols found in blueberries seem to help counter the bacteria and inflammation involved with gum disease. Now, new research suggests that polyphenols found in green tea may help address tooth sensitivity and, better yet, prevent decay .

Enamel Erosion Tooth sensitivity most often happens when enamel erodes, exposing the softer, porous dentin underneath. Through the dentin, hot and cold liquids and food can stimulate the nerve endings within the tooth, causing pain. More, exposed dentin makes the tooth more vulnerable to decay.

But treat that exposed dentin with a blend of a mineral known as nanohydroxyapatite and a polyphenol called EGCG may ease sensitivity while protecting the tooth.

Hydroxyapatite is a calcium phosphate similar to minerals found in teeth and can aid tooth remineralization. Nanosized particles of it can be incorporated into the dentinal tubules.

According to a media release about the new Applied Materials & Interfaces study, as the mixture plugs these tiny tubes, not only does it help prevent tooth sensitivity but also keeps the tubules from collecting bacteria such as S. mutans.

EGCG has been shown in previous studies to fight Streptococcus mutans, which forms biofilms that cause cavities. Testing on extracted wisdom teeth showed that the material plugged the dentin tubules, released EGCG for at least 96 hours, stood up to tooth erosion and brushing and prevented biofilm formation. It also showed low toxicity. Based on these findings, the researchers say the material could indeed be a good candidate for combating tooth sensitivity and cavities.

And this new research just scratches the surface of what polyphenols can do for oral health. Earlier research suggests, for instance, that compounds found in plants such as cranberries and guava may also be effective for warding off S. mutans and reducing inflammation.

Thousands of polyphenols – phytochemicals that give plants their color and protect against diseases – can be found throughout a wide range of foods, such as in both the flesh and skin of apples. These polyphenols, along with pectin, have been shown to have cholesterol-reducing properties.

As they say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

But that means you eat the whole fruit. Juice won’t cut it. In fact, the cholesterol study actually found that juice had a negative effect on LDL cholesterol. This shouldn’t be surprising. Juice is concentrated sugar. It’s also highly acidic – and dietary acids are a key culprit when it comes to enamel erosion.

Another excellent anti-inflammatory food is walnuts. In fact, no other nut contains more polyphenols.

Nuts are high in polyphenol antioxidants which by binding to lipoproteins would inhibit oxidative processes that lead to atherosclerosis in vivo. In human supplementation studies nuts have been shown to improve the lipid profile, increase endothelial function and reduce inflammation, all without causing weight gain.

Of course, some sources of polyphenol antioxidants should definitely be taken in moderation, such as red wine and chocolate. While both are rich in these chemical compounds, they can also deliver sugars and other components that can easily offset the good when consumed without moderation.

Fortunately, there are lots of other healthy options. To get you started, here are the top 100 foods for polyphenols and antioxidants. Including more of them in your diet – while reducing sugars and other fermentable carbs – can only support both your oral and systemic health.

Tooth image by Финитор, via Wikimedia Commons; diagram via ACS