Could Wasabi Help Keep Your Teeth Healthy?

A thorough brushing and flossing regime is a crucial part of looking after your teeth and gums. Science shows that some natural substances could help maintain good dental hygiene, including some ingredients that probably wouldn't stand out as obvious oral health boosters. For example, scientific research shows that wasabi, an essential side ingredient for sashimi and sushi lovers, could actually help you fight plaque and tooth decay. Learn more about how people enjoy wasabi, and find out how this unlikely material could become part of your dental routine.

The history of wasabi

Wasabi is a traditional Japanese food that humans have consumed in some parts of the world for centuries. Indeed, archaeological remains show that the Japanese ate wasabi as early as 14,000 BC. The earliest documented records of wasabi consumption date back to the 10th century, when the ingredient appeared in a Japanese botanical medical dictionary.

Sashimi (raw, sliced fish) makes up a significant part of the Japanese diet. Sashimi is rich in protein and vitamins, but Japanese people seldom eat the dish without wasabi. The condiment's strong taste helps counter the smell of the fish, and modern diners tend to mix wasabi with soy sauce for extra flavor.

Wasabi is also a key ingredient in sushi dishes, which also feature raw fish, mixed with vegetables and rice. Sushi's popularity outside Japan has made wasabi a popular ingredient around the world, including in the United States.

The chemical properties of wasabi

A Japanese study investigated the chemical properties of wasabi and how certain compounds in the substance can influence dental health. Wasabi is rich in chemical compounds called isothiocyanates. Research shows that these isothiocyanates can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, which dentists know can lead to dental caries and gum disease. This bacteria strain doesn't attack other parts of the human body, but does increase the acid levels in your saliva, increasing the risk of enamel erosion and caries.

Wasabi also helps stimulate healthy saliva production, and other studies have also shown that the ingredient has antimicrobial properties. In fact, historians believe that people originally served wasabi with sashimi and sushi because the condiment's antimicrobial properties helped kill bacteria lurking in the raw fish.

The Japanese have long admired wasabi for its other health properties, which largely come from these vital chemical compounds. Studies show that isothiocyanates could also help fight cancer, stop dangerous blood clots and help people avoid the symptoms of asthma.

Why further research is necessary

Researchers working on the original study published in 2000 acknowledged some of the limits of their findings. While the research team attempted to mimic the dark, moist, bacteria-friendly conditions of a human mouth, they confirmed that a test tube could never completely mimic what it is like for bacteria to live on your teeth. For example, it's difficult to replicate the biofilm that occurs naturally on your teeth, which dentists know offers a thriving breeding ground for bacteria.

Increasing wasabi in your diet

While a wasabi-flavored toothpaste is unlikely to hit the market (or make many sales) any day soon, increasing consumption of this powerful ingredient could still help you fight tooth decay. A single serving of wasabi peas is low in calories and offers a healthy snack to eat on the move. You could also consider stirring the peas into a salad or soup for extra crunch and a quick flavor boost. You can also make a healthy wasabi salad dressing by mixing sesame oil, wasabi paste, honey and rice wine vinegar.

Wasabi has been a staple ingredient in Japanese diets for centuries, and doctors are now starting to understand how this pungent condiment can boost human health. If you want to avoid the need for a root canal or dental implants to restore your teeth, then take care of your teeth now by eating oral health promoting foods like wasabi. The compounds in this natural ingredient can help fight harmful oral bacteria, but you'll probably need to think creatively about ways to increase the wasabi in your diet.