Green tea may well be a treat for your taste buds. But new research is suggesting that it benefits the rest of your oral cavity as well. Green tea contains compounds that appear to control inflammation and fight bacterial infection. This drink is also rich in antioxidants, which have many health properties.
What does that mean for your mouth? Here are five reasons why green tea may be good for your oral health.
1. Cavity prevention
Because green tea controls bacteria and lowers the acidity of saliva and dental plaque, it may be a useful tool in preventing cavities. A recent Egypt-based study tested people before and after they gave their mouths a five-minute rinse with green tea. The test subjects had less bacteria and acid in their mouths, as well as reduced gum bleeding. Other research has found that drinking green tea shows promise when it comes to preventing tooth decay.
2. Gum health
Green tea’s anti-inflammatory powers seem to help control periodontal (gum) disease. A Japanese survey of almost 1,000 men found that those who drank green tea regularly had healthier gums than those who didn’t. A German study found similar positive results in people who were asked to chew candies containing green-tea extracts.
3. Less tooth loss
It makes sense that a substance that helps prevent cavities and gum disease will help you keep your teeth. But in case you need proof, here it is: Japanese research published in 2010 reported that men and women who drink one or more cups of green tea a day were more likely to hold on to their natural teeth.
4. Cancer control
The antioxidants and other properties of green tea appear to protect against cellular damage and cancerous tumour growth. In one study at the University of Texas, green-tea extract was given to patients with precancerous lesions in their mouths, and it slowed the progression to oral cancer. Animal studies have also found that tea compounds can inhibit cancer growth.
5. Better breath
Green tea has been associated with better-smelling breath. Why? Likely because it kills the microbes that make our mouths stinky. The University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Dentistry measured the level of smelly compounds in people’s mouths after they were given green-tea powder or another substance that supposedly helps with bad breath. Green tea outperformed mints, chewing gum and even parsley-seed oil in this study.
Tips for drinking green tea
Want your daily diet to include more greens – green tea, that is? It’s likely safe to consume up to five cups a day of the stuff. But to get the maximum health and flavour benefits, make sure you prep your tea properly. Prepare a ceramic teapot by warming it with hot water. For the tea, use fresh, cold water, filtered or from a spring, if possible, instead of the tap. After bringing the water to a boil, let it cool for three minutes. Then pour it over tea leaves or a teabag and let it steep, covered, for three more minutes.
Think your teeth are set because you’re already drinking black tea? Keep in mind that since black tea is more processed, it contains less antioxidants and beneficial plant chemical compounds than green tea. Black tea is also two to three times higher in caffeine, so it’s more likely to cause side effects such as nervousness and sleep disturbances. Caffeine can also interfere with some medications – ask your doctor or pharmacist.
If you’re not a tea drinker, try oral care products that contain green tea, such as toothpaste and mouthwash (look for these at natural health stores). You can even chew gum or suck on candies made with green tea (as long as they’re sugarless!). But if you do enjoy tea, it makes sense to reach for green the next time you’re turning on the kettle.
Web exclusive November 2011 Best Health magazine