For years, nutrition experts and healthy food advocates have been calling for a ban on chocolate milk in schools to help curb childhood obesity. Some dentists are now joining the chorus, saying it's one of the main culprits in causing tooth decay among their young patients.
Although the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry lists chocolate milk among its recommended healthy snacks as long as it's consumed in reasonable amounts, to many working dentists, it is tooth-rotting anathema. "I recommend my patients don't drink it at all because it bathes the teeth in sugar which the bacteria in the mouth metabolize to create an acidic environment," explained Angie Chin, DDS, a pediatric dentist with Premier Dental Associates in Manhattan. "This demineralizes the enamel of the teeth increasing the likelihood of cavities."
Healthy food activists like Ann Cooper agree. "It's just soda in drag," she said. One hundred percent of the calories in a cola drink are derived from sugar versus about 60 percent in chocolate milk; however, the 16 ounce serving of Nesquik Chocolate Milk kids typically drink contains a teeth-aching 58 grams of sugar. (Coke does not sell a 16 ounce serving; it does sell a 20 ounce bottle packed with 65 grams of sugar.)
The issue may be more complicated than just grams of sugar, at least as far as teeth are concerned. "With any food you're concerned about both the amount of sugar and the amount of acid, and while chocolate milk is high in sugar it's not acidic so it doesn't etch away at tooth enamel as much as some other things do," pointed out Mary J. Hayes, DDS, a pediatric dentist practicing in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.
Further complicating the matter, chocolate itself might be tooth protective. Some preliminary research suggests that eating moderate amounts of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may reduce cavities by inhibiting the growth of mouth bacteria and preventing it from sticking to the gums and teeth. Some of this effect is mitigated when there is a high sugar-to-chocolate ratio as with many chocolate milk syrups and powders, but experts like Hayes believe that the sweet tasty beverage that so many children love is still be a better snack than some of the stickier, gooier choices they often make.
The American Dental Association offers no official stance on whether chocolate milk is friend or foe to teeth. Hayes says her opinion falls somewhere in the middle. She believes that every food should be evaluated on a case by case basis to decide how it fits into a child's total diet. "The best course of action for any parent is not to overreact and to work with the child's dentist to assess individual risk and come up with a specific plan that is best for your child," she advised.