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Cranberry Juice Might Prevent Cavities

Cranberry Juice Might Prevent Cavities

Healthnotes Newswire (February 23, 2006)—Cranberry juice can interfere with the development of cavity-causing plaque in a laboratory, according to Caries Research (2006;40:20–7). If this preliminary finding is confirmed in humans, then drinking cranberry juice might be an effective way to prevent cavities.

Tooth decay and cavities occur when sugars and bacteria exist together on the surfaces of teeth. The compounds that form when bacteria break down sugars cling to the tooth surfaces and attract more bacteria. This combination of sugar breakdown products and bacteria creates plaque on the teeth. An area coated with plaque is ripe for decay and eventually a cavity. When some mouth bacteria act on sugars they produce highly acidic substances that can damage the protective tooth enamel directly. The best way to prevent cavities is through dental hygiene and diet. Avoiding foods that are high in refined sugars, as well as brushing, flossing, and seeing a professional hygienist regularly, keeps plaque at bay and reduces the likelihood of developing cavities. Some nutrients contribute to enamel strength and in that way can also prevent cavities.

Cranberries are the bright red, slightly bitter fruit of the bushy plant Vaccinium macrocarpon. They are rich in bioflavonoids and vitamin C. Cranberries have a long history of use in preventing and treating urinary tract infections. Researchers have found that cranberry confers its benefits by preventing bacteria from “sticking” to the bladder wall. Regular consumption of commercial cranberry juice, despite its high sugar content, has been found to protect against bladder infections. There is some evidence that cranberries might promote oral health as well.

In the current study, a series of laboratory experiments were performed using sugars, human saliva, a bacterium known to cause cavities, and a prepared tooth-like material. The effects of a solution with 25% cranberry juice on various aspects of plaque formation was compared with the effects of a control solution that was similar in sugar and acid content but did not contain cranberry juice. The cranberry juice solution prevented the bacterium from forming some of the enzymes it uses to break down sugars, while the control solution did not. The bacterium mixed with saliva was 40 to 62% less able to adhere to tooth-like surfaces treated with cranberry juice than to those treated with the control solution. Applying the cranberry juice solution to tooth-like surfaces for one minute twice per day significantly reduced plaque formation and growth and resulted in less acid production by the bacteria involved in the plaque.

These findings suggest that cranberry juice has several effects that might prevent plaque, tooth decay, and cavities. More research is needed to determine whether cranberry juice has cavity-preventing effects in a human mouth with multiple bacterial strains and many foods passing across the tooth surfaces over the course of a day. The concentration of the juice solution used in this study was 25%, similar to that found in commercially available cranberry juices; however, because most commercial cranberry juices are made with large amounts of high fructose corn syrup, the additive’s effect on the properties of cranberries would need to be determined before most cranberry juice products could be recommended for cavity prevention. Unsweetened cranberry juice products are available in some health food stores.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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