Do Raisins Cause Cavities?

Do Raisins Cause Cavities?
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Dried fruit has long been thought to contribute to tooth decay, but what does the science say?

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Raisins have a long-standing reputation as a food that promotes cavities,  based on decades-old studies on rats that ranked raisins up there with cupcakes as among the most cavity-promoting foods. And to this day, you’ll see dental authorities advise against eating dried fruit, like raisins. But more recent evidence—studies done on actual people—casts some doubt on the role of raisins with regard to tooth decay.

The formation of cavities depends on three factors: acid, adherence—the stickiness of food to teeth, and the bacteria that make up the dental plaque. If you have a child swish some sugar water in their mouth, within five minutes, the pH of the plaque on their teeth plummets, as the bacteria convert the sugar to acid. And raisin bran was practically just as bad. Bran flakes alone, without the raisins, weren’t as bad, but is that because the raisins in raisin bran are crusted with sugar, or because of the raisins themselves? Well, raisins didn’t lead to much acid at all, and the big surprise was that if you combined the non-sugar coated raisin with the bran flakes to create a kind of experimental raisin bran, the raisins seemed to prevent some of the acid the bran flakes were causing.

So, although raisins are like 70% pure sugar, they caused less acid to be produced; so, although they’re sweet, they don’t appear to adhere to our teeth. But don’t raisins stick to your teeth? 21 foods were put to the test, and there was actually no relationship between food retention and how sticky the foods appeared to be. Bits of cookies, crackers, and potato chips actually stuck to the teeth the longest, whereas things you’d think would stick, like caramel and raisins, disappeared within minutes, though fresh fruit like apples and bananas disappeared from the mouth almost immediately.

 Phytonutrients in grapes appear to actually prevent the adherence of bacteria and prevent plaque formation, so much so that grape pomace, the by-product of wine making, is being investigated as a cavity-preventing food additive. Or, you could just drink the wine. Dealcoholized wine inhibits the growth of the primary cavity-causing bacteria, though raisins would probably be a more appropriate snack for kids.

There’s a new test out to measure the cavity-causing activity of plaque bacteria. So, a pilot study was performed to see if the risk for cavities increases, decreases, or remains the same after eating raisins. They took 156 folks, swabbed their teeth, waited for the readings to get up over 1,500, which indicates high cavity-causing activity, and had half eat a little box of raisins and the other half eat nothing. In that eat-nothing control group, they started out up at around 6,100 and 15 minutes later were still up at 6,100. The raisin group started up around 5,950, but after raisin consumption, their cavity risk score dropped down to 3,350. Although that’s a big reduction, note the score was still left higher than the 1,500 cutoff, indicating they were still at risk, but the risk went down after raisins, not up. So. while traditionally, raisins have been thought to promote tooth decay, current research suggests that raisins may not contribute to cavities after all, or at least not any more than other foods.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Muklinika via Pixabay.

Raisins have a long-standing reputation as a food that promotes cavities,  based on decades-old studies on rats that ranked raisins up there with cupcakes as among the most cavity-promoting foods. And to this day, you’ll see dental authorities advise against eating dried fruit, like raisins. But more recent evidence—studies done on actual people—casts some doubt on the role of raisins with regard to tooth decay.

The formation of cavities depends on three factors: acid, adherence—the stickiness of food to teeth, and the bacteria that make up the dental plaque. If you have a child swish some sugar water in their mouth, within five minutes, the pH of the plaque on their teeth plummets, as the bacteria convert the sugar to acid. And raisin bran was practically just as bad. Bran flakes alone, without the raisins, weren’t as bad, but is that because the raisins in raisin bran are crusted with sugar, or because of the raisins themselves? Well, raisins didn’t lead to much acid at all, and the big surprise was that if you combined the non-sugar coated raisin with the bran flakes to create a kind of experimental raisin bran, the raisins seemed to prevent some of the acid the bran flakes were causing.

So, although raisins are like 70% pure sugar, they caused less acid to be produced; so, although they’re sweet, they don’t appear to adhere to our teeth. But don’t raisins stick to your teeth? 21 foods were put to the test, and there was actually no relationship between food retention and how sticky the foods appeared to be. Bits of cookies, crackers, and potato chips actually stuck to the teeth the longest, whereas things you’d think would stick, like caramel and raisins, disappeared within minutes, though fresh fruit like apples and bananas disappeared from the mouth almost immediately.

 Phytonutrients in grapes appear to actually prevent the adherence of bacteria and prevent plaque formation, so much so that grape pomace, the by-product of wine making, is being investigated as a cavity-preventing food additive. Or, you could just drink the wine. Dealcoholized wine inhibits the growth of the primary cavity-causing bacteria, though raisins would probably be a more appropriate snack for kids.

There’s a new test out to measure the cavity-causing activity of plaque bacteria. So, a pilot study was performed to see if the risk for cavities increases, decreases, or remains the same after eating raisins. They took 156 folks, swabbed their teeth, waited for the readings to get up over 1,500, which indicates high cavity-causing activity, and had half eat a little box of raisins and the other half eat nothing. In that eat-nothing control group, they started out up at around 6,100 and 15 minutes later were still up at 6,100. The raisin group started up around 5,950, but after raisin consumption, their cavity risk score dropped down to 3,350. Although that’s a big reduction, note the score was still left higher than the 1,500 cutoff, indicating they were still at risk, but the risk went down after raisins, not up. So. while traditionally, raisins have been thought to promote tooth decay, current research suggests that raisins may not contribute to cavities after all, or at least not any more than other foods.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Muklinika via Pixabay.

86 responses to “Do Raisins Cause Cavities?

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  1. Off topic but of concern….

    …are raw peanuts edible, or does cooking need to be done in order to eliminate antinutirients, etc.? Peanuts are a bean so I have always assumed they need to be cooked. Toxic raw? Bad for gut raw? I am aware of the aflatoxin issue in peanuts, but cooking seems to have little effect on reducing this risk, and that is not the issue I am most concerned about. Thanks for any help on this.

    1. Edibility is hard to answer with an absolute yes or no. I envision edibility as a spectrum of maybes that depend on lots of different factors about the eater, and the prep, and the food itself. My thinking is that cooked legumes are always more edible than raw legumes. Lectins and phytates are present in plant seeds and seed foods and at least some of these can be reduced by soaking in multiple changes of water and cooking. These substances are also concentrated in the seed skins. I hadn’t really considered how peanuts are unique in the legume family because they are most often prepared by roasting!

      1. Boiled peanuts are popular in the southern US. I remember being served a vegetable stew that had boiled peanuts in Alabama. It was a bit bland. Roasting brings out more interesting flavors, but I was a meat eater at the time, and perhaps now, I would appreciate them more.

        1. ((facepalm)) I was born in Alabama, so I should have thought of these! Aside from the ones in soup, the peanuts boiled for snacking are not pre-soaked, and are cooked directly in water – not only with their skins, but also with their shells! For anyone who has never tried these, tastewise, they kinda remind me of edamame.

        2. The first time I had boiled peanuts was in Florida many years ago. They are sold on the roadside and you get a bag of salty in shell peanuts that you shell and eat. I just loved them and I tried to repeat the flavor by boiling peanuts and then blending them into hummus. I just think they are delicious.
          I believe that this was the food used to transport the enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. It is a remarkable plant, the goober.

        1. Mike: As I understand, sulfite-containing raisins are problematic only if you’re allergic to sulfites or have asthma. If your body tolerate sulfites, sulfite-containing raisins (golden raisins) are better for you than the ones without sulfites because the former has more antioxidants. The same is true for dried apricots. Evidently sulfites protect the antioxidants from oxidation.

        2. Hi Mike! If you’re still concerned about sulfites, there are many all-natural/organic brands that are sulfite-free. Just check the ingredient list on the food label. Hope this helps!

      1. Raw peanuts are great in “peanut punch” a delicious Jamaican drink made with peanuts soy milk Irish moss and spicesWhen done right tastes like a Reeces peanut butter cup with a straw , yum

    2. My brothers and I all grew up eating peanuts by the handfulls – raw, boiled, roasted, salted, unsalted, in the shell, shelled, as butter. . .. Now in our 60’s I see no repercussions for our consumption. Personally, I like peanuts raw the best.
      Interestingly, peanuts are a basic protein in Africa where they are eaten in the various forms and called groundnuts. You can find many lovely varieties of recipes on the internet for West African Groundnut (or Peanut) Stew. I’ve made it and its simply delicious hot or cold. One fun variation is to add some chunks for pineapple to the stew – makes your mouth go “Wow!” :-)

    3. Hi michellevagan – occasionally i buy raw peanuts without the shell and eat them like that. I do not find them distasteful, but not my favorite either.

    4. I like this post because I read recently that aflatoxin was what triggered peanut “allergies” and not the peanut itself. So what was blamed on the peanut was actually believed to be the fungi doing the damage. I remember from my microbiology class how harmful that fungi is and how heat doesn’t undo its toxicity. Scary stuff. Irreversible liver damage and death from consuming even small amounts, mostly in 3rd world countries.

        1. I only buy peanut butter from fresh peanuts, where you can grind it right at the health food store yourself. You know that it doesn’t have any weird additives or sugars in it. I’ve known about aflatoxins for decades. Then you know they’re fresh and I eat it rapidly. I just heard (don’t know the source) that the resveratrol in peanuts has shown them to be correlated with longer life spans.

    5. In the Phillippines they boil peanuts,I couldnt buy any raw, I guess its maybe because the autoflaxin risk is higher in damp tropical climates. I have eaten white,skin removed peanuts for may years without issues. I was intrigued to notice the efforts squirrels go to not to eat the skins as do chickens hmmm maybe they know something, peanut skins do taste unpleasant.

    6. How about sprouting, that usually decreases phytates and increases some nutrients. They may still need light cooking, not sure about that, but maybe worth investigating via search engine?

    7. I am not human because I LOVE & eat lots and lots of raw (in shell) peanuts almost every day. According to search I did 2 years ago on Google, by weight peanuts have the same amount of protein as Fillet Minion steak. I am a vegan so for me it’s a great protein substitute at a much lower price & no cruelty and no cooking (takes time and is expensive) required either.

  2. I add a handful of raisins to my morning hot cereal everyday (Recently, I started using Greger mouthwash after every meal), so this is an important one for me, and it’s reassuring. Thank you Dr. Greger. Any similar research on the effect of dates on teeth?

    1. Good question! I was surprised how hard it is to do a literature search for dates since that word means so many things. My best efforts to find studies on dates and cavities turned up nothing. I think it’s reasonable to assume that dates are similar to raisins in that they are no worse at promoting cavities than other foods. Despite this modest news on the oral hygeine front, Dr. Greger has pointed out there are some other great reasons to eat dates.
      Are dates good for you?

        1. The authors provide no data about dates specifically, but they are correct that quite a lot of studies associating fluoride and tooth decay have been performed!

    1. Hi, thanks for your question. Lemon water has a lot of benefiial health properties however since it is acidic with a ph of around 2, it can erode tooth enamel. The enamol is the hard covering that protects your teeth. I would refer you to one of the videos of Dr G. regarding mouth wash that you might like to use in which he suggests use of green tea on its own or with added Amla which has another name called Indian Gooseberry as a home made mouth wash.

      what is the best mouthwash

    2. The advice seems to be where possible drink through a straw and rinse your mouth after!

      “Whether lemon juice or wedge, smoothies can be sour, and any time you’re eating or drinking something sour, you have to careful about eroding the enamel on your teeth. If you soak teeth in a smoothie for an hour, significant enamel is eroded away, but who soaks their teeth in a smoothie for an hour? What if you instead study the effects of smoothies in situ, meaning in position, as opposed to in vitro, meaning in glass? If you make people wear slabs of enamel in their mouths while they drink a smoothie to replicate a typical tooth exposure, they do find almost as much erosion as drinking diet coke, so it’s recommended that smoothies be consumed through a straw, similar to the advice given for other acidic beverages like soda or hibiscus tea. Compared to control, drinking juice through a straw has less of an acidic effect than swishing it around in your mouth, so avoid swishing smoothies around in your mouth, and you want to wait at least an hour before brushing so as not to brush your enamel in a softened state, but rinsing your mouth out with water after drinking can help rinse away some of the acids to protect your teeth.”

      From here-
      The downside of green smoothies

      There’s also more information here-
      Do vegans get more cavities?

      and here-
      Plant based diets and dental health

  3. As an ICU nurse, I have to use hand sanitizer products dozens of times a day-every time I enter and leave a room. I work a 12 hour shift. I understand the importance of not transferring germs but are there any safety/ health concerns for using these alcohol- based products this much.

    1. The concern is that hand sanitizers destroy the microbiome on your skin making possible for the skin to “break down” and then bacteria or viruses can move from your skin (or from anywhere else) into your blood causing inflammation and irritation.

      Here is an excerpt from Robynne Chutkan, M.D.’s Gutbliss website on the issue, “Chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate are common ingredients in cleansing products because they create a thick lather, but they’re also easily absorbed and very irritating to your skin. Harsh chemicals like these make your skin and scalp more permeable to penetration by surface bacteria and viruses, as well as to other chemicals, creating a state of dysbiosis and putting you at risk for developing skin conditions like acne, eczema and rosacea.”
      Robynne Chutkan, MD on Hygiene

      That said, I see a lot of patients daily (15-20) and I almost always wash my hands or use hand sanitizer. I don’t like it but I don’t want many of my patients microbiota, nor do my patients want other patients microbiota either so at the end of the day I wash my hands with a gentler soap like Cetaphil face wash that is not as harsh and place moisturizer on top of the skin to help repair the daily damage. It does help somewhat but I do not know of another proven system to keep your skin healthy and at the same time not spread disease from others.

      Anybody else know of any good solution to this conundrum?

      1. I remember being taught something about keeping the hands moisturised so they don’t crack and provide places to breed bacteria, but can’t currently find a good research paper to support this!

        Environmental adjuvants are an interesting idea, though unlikely to reduce the hand hygiene still required-
        Rethinking sterile- the hospital microbiome

        1. Whilst it may not be “purist vegan”, I find pure lanolin (wool grease) to be my absolute favorite hand/skin protectant. I use it quite a bit in the dry air of Winter. It goes on a bit heavy/sticky, but is fairly quickly absorbed and less tacky feeling. A little bit goes a long ways.

    2. Hand sanitizer does not kill the notorious C. difficile infection and certain other bacteria. You need bleach and peroxide to do a more complete job. Perhaps UV light would also help. Also, bacteria can be transferred if the medical practitioner is wearing long sleeves and the fabric touches the patient. I also wonder if these things can result in mutated sanitizer resistant organisms. Alcohol sanitizer must also be very rough on your hands if you use it several times a day. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that the more I’m exposed to bacteria and viruses, the stronger my immunity becomes- although I doubt that a patient with a compromised immune function would be comforted if a nurse puts that theory into practice.

    3. Hi Gayle, Thanks for your question regarding hand sanitizer products. I personally use lavender oil as I know it has cleansing property. Infact the botanical name is Lavandula which comes from Latin word to wash. Also tea tree oil which has a compound called Terpine-4-ol which has antimicrobial properties. There was a study that suggests the combinations of lavender oils inhibited growth of both MSSA and MRSA by direct contact and suggested it should be investigated further for possible use in antibacterial products. I shall include the refernce for you.

      I found another website that gives a good recipe to make your own hand sanitizer which I will include here for you as well.

      How to Make Homemade Hand Sanitizer

      The antimicrobial activity of high-necrodane and other lavender oils on methicillin-sensitive and -resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA and MRSA).

  4. I believe it was one of Dr. Greger’s videos a year or so back that reported Indian Gooseberry powder kills dental plaque. I purchased a bag from Amazon, and rub it on my teeth and gums (without rinsing) just before I go to sleep. Ever since, my dental hygienist reports finding very little plaque on my teeth, and of course, no cavities. Thanks, again, Dr. Greger!

        1. Just rinse everything off on your counter after you brush because the next morning everything will be black if you don’t. It works great however. I’ve added it to my homemade tooth powder and my teeth and gums are doing great.

      1. “Amla evidently shows an outstanding cavity-stopping potential not by killing off the bacteria like green tea, but by actually suppressing the bacteria’s plaque forming abilities.”

      1. I have heard so many stories of how Jeff Bezos of Amazon is such a titanic slave driver-both personally from people I know who worked for him but also extensive literature on the topic. I try to avoid them.

      2. Hi Jose; I used to buy a lot from Amazon and used to be a Prime member, but now I try to avoid it as much as possible. Nevertheless, I can’t completely avoid buying at Amazon because there’re things I can’t find anywhere else online at reasonable prices. What the world needs is a true competitor to Amazon. I had a lot of hopes for Jet, but Jet doesn’t complete with Amazon; it does with Costco.

    1. Been using salt based toothpaste for years now. (Weleda is mfg). Has improved my gum health and still no cavities! (never had any). You can get it on Amazon…

  5. Dr. Greger mentioned non-alcoholic wine. I love cabernet so I tried I tried some, sans alcohol recently. Gawd it was awful! I’ll stick to two buck Chuck.

  6. One thing I love about Dr. Greger’s videos is that he measures data that I didn’t even know anyone measured. Who talks about a measurable stickiness factor of foods in causing cavities? John

  7. Is it safe for me to be drinking apple cider vinegar water (approx 3/4 tsp acv : 1 qt water), effectively, “all day” or will this corrode my teeth?

        1. So sorry we can’t be more exact – it’s really difficult for us to say. There are many other factors that can contribute to enamel erosion. Low salivary flow, acid reflux, certain medications, genetics, and even environmental factors (stress, wear & tear) also play a role. It would be best to ask your dentist for more specific recommendations, as they know your complete medical history. Thanks again for your question! Hope this helps!

          1. It actually did help:
            i. I saw vinegar on the list of foods that cause cavities
            ii. I got the tip not to brush directly after eating acidic foods.

  8. Considering my daughter has never had a raisin or a piece of dried fruit.. I’m gonna say no, no they don’t cause cavities. *Lack of nutrition causes cavities*

    1. Great question! One study that Dr. Greger examined put 21 foods to the test – and there was actually no relationship between food retention and how sticky the foods appeared to be. Bits of certain processed foods actually stuck to the teeth the longest, whereas raisins disappeared within minutes. I think it’s reasonable to assume prunes would respond very similar to raisins.

  9. A wide variety of high polyphenol plants interfere with quorum sensing in Streptococcus mutans, the major cariogenic pathogen. A useful though now somewhat dated review is Plant Polyphenols and Their Anti-Cariogenic Properties: A Review (2011). The most recent review is Natural Products and Caries Prevention (2015), which isn’t open access. It highlights the citrus flavonol hesperidin, as well as high polyphenol foods like grapes, cacao, tea, and coffee, which have all been found to inhibit Streptococcus mutans biofilm formation. Fellow fellow dark roast addicts can rejoice in these papers: 1, 2, 3, 4.

  10. The Disqus sponsored adverts are back again when I click through to “view in discussion” from the Notifications button. Sorry I can’t use the print screen function to show you – Windows 10 doesn’t seem to support it (it won’t let me print either but that is another matter).

    1. Tom Goff: Thanks for the note. I passed it on. FYI: I don’t think we need the screen print any more since we know the problem is with disqus. Now all we have to do is get disqus to behave like professionals…

  11. Dr. Greger and team! is there any science out there on urine therapy??? very curious to hear about this topic here. one can dream :)

    1. Sounds like nightmare rather than a dream!

      The only study I’ve seen published notes the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in human urine and no recorded clinical benefits:
      “no documented scientific / clinical evidence of the beneficial effect of urine therapy in clinical had been reported, while multiple antibiotic resistant bacterial species had also been recovered from such urine.”
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3032614/

      And Medicinenet comments:
      “The bottom line is that drinking your own urine isn’t likely to be harmful, but it has no known medical benefit.”
      http://www.medicinenet.com/urine_therapy/views.htm

      The only advantage of this approach that I can see is the opportunity it affords to make oodles of jokes in extremely bad taste (see, I’m doing it already).

    2. Hi there, this is not a topic that I have read about or ever discussed with clients or colleagues, nor have I ever come across any information by Dr Greger on this subject

  12. Thank you so much for making a video on dental health. I have not been able to make it to the dentist for a couple years and although I haven’t had a cavity for many years I am scared for my teeth . I do everything I can to protect them because I am afraid of losing them and of course the dental pain, I am flossing with dental floss and using a waterpik water flosser every day and brushing with a rechargeable toothbrush twice a day. This year I switched toothpastes to Crest Advanced to get more fluoride. I also wait at least an hour after brushing in the morning and evening to eat or drink and swish my mouth with what is in my mouth after brushing for about a minute to help remineralize my teeth, If you have any suggestions they would be appreciated. 62 and plant based since 2009

    1. David: There are some other videos on this site about dental health. Be sure so check out the ones about mouthwash as it sounds like swishing with Dr. Greger’s recommendation can be a great protective measure!

  13. Is there any scientific evidence suggesting that nightshade vegetables should be avoided for better health? I keep hearing that from time to time but I don’t understand why tomatoes or potatoes would be bad. I never hear any plant based doctor saying we should avoid them. I have a friend recommending to another friend to avoid nightshade vegetables. I’d like to show her research, if possible, why that’s not accurate.

    1. Dar: I could be wrong, but it is my understanding that the shunning of nightshades comes from the macrobiotic diet. Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia about the macrobiotic diet:
      .
      “A macrobiotic diet (or macrobiotics), is a diet in which an attempt is made to balance the yin and yang elements of food; this means that grains are a staple, supplemented with other foods such as vegetables and soy; certain kinds of cookware should be avoided.”
      .
      and
      .
      “Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant; also spinach, beets and avocados are not recommended or are used sparingly in macrobiotic cooking, as they are considered extremely yin.[11] Some macrobiotic practitioners also discourage the use of nightshades because of the alkaloid solanine, thought to affect calcium balance.[12] Some proponents of a macrobiotic diet believe that nightshade vegetables can cause inflammation in the body and osteoporosis.[13]”
      .
      From these quotes, you can see that a) the macrobiotic diet discourages uses of nightshades and b) the macrobiotic diet is not based on science. It is pretty what I call “woo-woo”, but some of it’s tenants overlap with a whole plant food based (WFPB) diet and thus I’m sure a macrobiotic diet can help some people to the extent that it does overlap WFPB diet.
      .
      But talking about a negative, “The origins of what you believe in has no scientific backing.” is not as persuasive as, “Here’s scientific evidence that shows you are wrong.” For that, I suggest you look up the nightshade foods listed above on the NutritionFacts site/in the search box at the top of the page. I think you will find plenty of videos and their related scientific studies to show that eating at least some of those foods (for example, spinach and beets) is very healthy indeed.
      .
      Note: Since I’m not an expert, there may be some group of people with some disease or genetic situation where nightshades really are a problem–in the same way that someone allergic to peanuts should not eat them even if they are healthy. I don’t know one way or the other if there really are a set of people who should not eat nightshades as a class. But it is pretty clear to me that such restriction would not apply generally to everyone.
      .
      Does that help?

    2. There are countless people on the potato diet, they are all perfectly healthy!
      Also, eat a nice stew, with potatos and tomatos with some nice beef real butter and herbs, and eat as much as you can. Doesn’t it make you feel full and nourished. If it would be poison you would feel bad. I can’t tolerate bread, and no doctor or nutritionist has to tell me it’s bad for me, because I can feel that with my body. You know listen to your body and feelings. If eating potatos and tomatos makes you feel good and don’t cause negative side effects for you, just eat and enjoy.

  14. I’ve been hearing about vegans losing all their teeth. What is the reason for that? What is deficient in their diet and what foods or supplements are necessary to prevent it from happening?

  15. no alcoholic wine is expensive- could one just boil the alcohol out and have it still be very healthy (antioxidants and teeth health – sans the sugar content)?

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