By: Jean Johnson for Dental1
“Give thanks for cranberries.” That’s how the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) put it last year when they profiled the work done by one of their own – oral biologist Hyun Michel Koo, DDS, PhD. Koo didn’t stop with his preliminary findings and has continued to pursue his research. Thus, this Thanksgiving 2006 update is to extol the praises of cranberries everywhere, both in dental research and in two sugar-free cooking ideas at the end of this article.
The Protective Cranberry – from UTIs to Tooth Decay
|Tips for Good Oral Health|
Carbohydrate-rich foods containing sugars feed the bacteria in the tooth plaque. Although cavities generally take months or years to form, regular brushing and flossing immediately after eating or drinking sugary foods – or at the very least rinsing – helps control decay.
Dentists also recommend limiting foods and drinks high in sugar to mealtimes after which oral hygiene can be performed.
Try not to over-floss or over-brush, as both can cause injuries to your gums.
Stop smoking and make an effort to live a healthy lifestyle full of nutritious foods and exercise – being healthy overall makes your mouth healthy and more able to fight off infection.
Visit your dentist every six months.
Koo, a food scientist turned dentist, first became interested in the tart, seasonal cranberry because of the fruit’s ability to protect against urinary tract infections (UTIs).
“Scientists believe that one of the main ways that cranberries prevent urinary tract infections is by inhibiting the adherence of pathogens on the surface of the bladder,” he told the URMC News in 2005. “Perhaps the same is true in the mouth where bacteria use adhesion molecules to hold onto teeth. Something in the cranberry juice disarms the pathogens that cause tooth decay.”
Koo’s work focused on cranberry juice exclusively. In initial 2004 studies he found that drinking two glasses of a drink containing 25 percent cranberry juice was 67 to 85 percent effective in preventing bacteria from sticking to artificial tooth surfaces.
Proceed With Caution
Koo cautions, however, that given the sugar content in most cranberry drinks, nabbing a case at the store isn’t the way to go. Indeed, most cranberry juices or drinks are full of high fructose corn syrup and other added sugars and fillers.
In addition to the sugar content, the high acidity of cranberries themselves is a factor that needs to be considered. As chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), Nigel Carter, DDS, told the BBC News, “Every time you eat or drink something acidic, the enamel on your teeth is softened temporarily. If given time to recover, your saliva will neutralize this acidity in your mouth and restore it to its natural balance. However, if this attack happens too often, the mouth does not have the chance to repair itself and tiny particles of enamel can be brushed away.
“Tooth decay is caused by sugar, and erosion can leave you more open to this,” Carter added. “So while cranberries can be enjoyed, they should be limited to mealtimes only to avoid potential problems.
Isolating the Essence
Rather than recommending drinking cranberry juice, though, Koo’s team has been trying to isolate the protective compounds in cranberries. Working with plant pathologist Nicholi Vorsa, PhD at Rutgers, Koo and his colleagues have tested various compounds in cranberry juice that are effective against streptococcus mutans, the microbe that is at the root of much tooth decay. S. mutans depends on a tacky surface that allows it to adhere to the surfaces of teeth. Cranberry juice is effective in minimizing this stickiness, and hence can help prevent tooth decay.
Koo’s research is advanced enough to warrant a publication, which appeared in the January 2006 issue of Caries Research. The researcher also presented an update on his findings at the June 2006 International Association for Dental Research’s 84th General Session and Exhibition in Brisbane, Australia. There, Koo noted that two cranberry antioxidants in particular, quercetin and myricetin, seemed to be involved in decreasing stickiness and protected tooth surfaces against decay from s. mutans.
"We are not offering the solution for the elimination of dental caries," Koo told Reactive Reports, an award-winning chemistry web magazine, "but rather an alternative approach to help to reduce it. We have shown that there are some specific compounds that may help to reduce caries. The challenge is to find those that are biologically active.”
Enter the Oral Health Industry
Challenge aside, the industry is forging ahead. As the BDHF’s Carter noted, “With the number of cranberry-containing toothpastes and flosses on the market increasing, it seems that oral health companies are taking advantage of the benefits of cranberries.”
One Pennsylvania oral health company called Radius – that markets its exceptional toothbrushes to the likes of Robert Redford – offers a cranberry floss spun in natural beeswax. According to company literature, the floss is “coated with pure unsweetened cranberry essence, which is removed during the action of flossing and deposited on the gums to help break up plaque.” So if you want a festive stocking stuffer that’s on the cutting edge of research, you can purchase a 30-meter package of floss for $3.95, or a six-pack for the entire gang at around $18.
Along similar lines, Grace Advantage, an oral health company owned by Flora Stay, DDS – member of the University of California at Santa Monica and author of The Complete Book of Dental Remedies – sells cranberry toothpaste and mouth rinse. The claims for Grace Advantage’s fluoride-free toothpaste state that the product has “baking soda and xylitol [that] brightens and cleans teeth by removing surface stains, fights plaque and tartar build-up, helps prevent dry mouth and freshens breath. Developed by a dentist with the needs of those with sensitive teeth in mind, Grace Fibro-Smile toothpaste is non-abrasive and is the perfect salicylate-free formula for daily brushings and proper oral care.” A tube of this cranberry paste – that we assume has a delicate pink shade – costs just under $9.
There you have it. From a food scientist turned dentist, to oral health companies, to the good old kitchen, it seems that no matter where a person turns this time of year, shiny round cranberries are in sight. And that’s a good thing – for the future of dental research and for our health.
Try Some Recipes with Cranberries Today!
Perhaps it’s too much to ask to think about both unsweetened cranberries and kale in the same breath. We think, however, when the goodies get added into this dish, that you’ll be sold. Kale is lovely because, unlike spinach, it doesn’t wilt when it’s cooked. Then again, if you’re kale-adverse, use any hardy green you like – spinach, chard, even mustard greens. The idea is to heat a handful or two of fresh cranberries in a wok or large pan on high in a slick of oil, adding a bit of water or splash of cold tea from the morning to help with the steaming.
Once the berries are about to burst, in goes the chopped greens for a quick toss and wilt down. The result: a warm salad in burnished reds and greens ready to dress for the holiday.
Here, think in terms of a good olive oil and vinegar along with cheeses, fruits like cranberries, and nuts – or even some nice smoked oysters or salmon. One combination that’s nice is bits of brie, bite size pieces of tart green apple with the skins on, and toasted, chopped hazelnuts. But don’t let us narrow your horizons. Half the appeal of the dish is in finding your own creative way to celebrate cranberries in their own right. Just be sure that once you add the vinegar you get the dish to the table soon, as it will turn the color of the greens to an unpalatable gray.
If you’re on the same page with us on the kale and cranberries, consider yourself an adventurous healthy eater and cook. If you’re not quite ready for prime time, however, perhaps an approach a little closer to classic modes of cranberry appreciation will do the trick.
Even here you’ll need to taste and adjust, but it’s an official cranberry sauce – or more accurately a relish since it’s not cooked. Sauce or relish count on the dish to have some of the requisite sweetness Americans have come to know and love in tandem with cranberries.
Take a half pound or so of fresh berries and cull the soft ones out before running through a food grinder or food processor. Then add two oranges (zest and fruit) along with two cored, sweet red apples, peel and all. The mix will respond quite nicely to a splash of wine and perhaps a hint of horseradish. From there, it’s just a matter of tasting and adding more apples and oranges until you get the balance that works for your palate.