Hops and Your Teeth

When we talk about hops, we’re not writing about the behavior of rabbits and kangaroos or the ability of an athlete to jump. For this article, the Placerville Dental Group is talking about the flavoring substance used in beer. It turns out that some of the chemicals in hops work against the very bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease!

The Use of Hops

Hops were commonly grown as an agricultural product in California and the Sacramento Valley in the historical past. Along Highway 80 it was once common to see hop farms growing their vines on high trellises. Today, this crop is making a resurgence as craft brewers search for heirloom or specialized strains of hops and use these to create personalized recipes. (For the uninitiated, hops lend beer its bitter taste.) Lately, beers with extraordinary amounts of hops are very popular. India Pale Ales, or IPAs, contain large amounts of hops, although all beer tends to contain at least some.

IPAs and Imperial Stouts both contain exceptionally high amounts of hops since they were originally made in England for overseas export. Even then, brewers realized that hops had a preservative effect on beer. By adding more hops, they made it possible for the beer to arrive at its destination, such as India or Russia, as a quality product after months on a ship.

Aware of this anti-bacterial effect, scientists in Japan studied the use of hop chemicals against a common bacteria responsible for gum disease. They discovered that both in the test tube and administered orally with volunteers, hop products reduced plaque and bacterial growth. Mind you, they provided the hops in tablets, not in beer. So while we may see the same effect from drinking beer high in hops, it’s in no way guaranteed and there are also some caveats about beer drinking that deserve consideration.

The Flip Side of Beer and Hops

While hops may knock down the bacteria, the sugars in the beer also provide them with sustenance. Plus, acidic beers may contribute to enamel destruction, much like sodas. Finally, darker beers are linked to tooth stains. While that’s a cosmetic consideration, for many people it’s an important one. As with any food or drink, rinsing with water and then brushing your teeth is always recommended after partaking. And of course, with any alcoholic product, appropriate use and moderation is absolutely necessary.

Nevertheless, it’s always nice to hear good news about foods and drinks we may find enjoyable. If you like beer, you can judge the amount of hops by the IBU rating (International Bittering Units). A higher IBU generally means more hops are added. IPAs are the king in this category for ales, pilsners if you prefer lagers. (Pilsners also have the advantage of being lighter in color, which lessens tooth stains.) So feel free to say your dentist told you some good things about beer next time you lift a glass, just don’t start using IPAs as mouthwash. That’s definitely not ADA recommended!

Jun 25, 2015 | Oral Health


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