Eating Cereal Without Milk Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Teeth

Cereal is a popular choice for breakfast. It's convenient, there are literally hundreds of kinds on the market, and they're inexpensive, too (depending on which brand you purchase). And if you thought only children got googly-eyed for cereal, think again: Even adults can't resist Lucky Charms, Rice Krispies, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Of course, when there's cereal, there's milk. Or is there? 

It is not uncommon for children (and adults) to consume sugary cereals as dry snacks throughout the day without milk. However, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, washing down your cereal with milk might just help your teeth out. A lot happens to your body when you eat cereal every day. Most cereals contain lots of sugar, and sugar attracts harmful bacteria to your teeth, which feed on them and form plaque. Plaque buildup leads to a drop in pH levels in your oral environment; this basically means that your mouth becomes more acidic. This is a prime condition for cavities. Additionally, sugar consumption is also linked to gum disease and gingivitis.

The research involved getting 20 adults to eat 20 grams of dry Froot Loops cereal and then have either whole milk, 100% apple juice, or tap water. Milk was seen to have an unexpected effect on acidity levels in the participants' mouths. "Our study results show that only milk was able to reduce acidity of dental plaque resulting from consuming sugary Froot Loops," shared lead author Shilpa Naval (per UIC Today). 

What about consuming milk with cereal (and not after)?

Interestingly, some experts think that having milk alongside cereal isn't particularly great for your teeth. 

As explained by pediatric dentistry professor Christine Wu, who served as the principal investigator of the 2013 study and has done more research on the topic, even though milk is considered to have cavity-fighting properties, a combination of Froot Loops and milk can become syrupy (via UIC Today). This can lead to low pH levels in your mouth. In fact, having cereal with milk has the same effect on your mouth acidity levels as consuming cereal and washing it down with a 10% sugar solution. So if you're in the habit of having cereal with milk and drinking fruit juice after, you're definitely not doing your teeth any favors.

With that said, the unexpected way in which milk protects your teeth is certainly interesting. Dairy is naturally abundant in casein, phosphorus, and calcium, all of which help remineralize tooth enamel. Milk also prevents corrosive acids from chipping away at your teeth to cause cavities by forming a protective layer over them. Consuming milk after a meal (cereal or anything else) helps neutralize acid or sugar attacks, shared dentist Dr. Sunita De Zoysa (via Live Science). And if you're wondering about plant-based milks, while they contain lower levels of phosphorus and no casein, some do come fortified with tooth-friendly nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.

Cereal and milk consumption: Things to keep in mind

Whether or not you want to swear off cereals as a morning meal option is up to you, but there are cereals that are actually good for you. To put it in perspective, not all cereals are made equal. Some contain more sugar (and can thus be more detrimental to your teeth) than others. The trick is to read the labels, be conscientious, and make wise choices. Mainly, steer clear of the high-sugar kinds. 

Experts also recommend avoiding really sticky cereal varieties that cling to the roof of your mouth, get stuck between the crevices of your teeth, and become hard to remove even with brushing and flossing. Particularly hard and crunchy cereals can damage your teeth, too. Despite its enamel protective abilities, milk (cow's milk or plant-based) also contains sugar. Thus, brushing your teeth before bed and in the morning are musts to keep your smile in good condition.

Lastly, if you're in the habit of snacking on your cereal without milk, choose low-sugar varieties — and end your snack with a glass of milk.