For a healthy smile brush between meals, floss regularly and eat plenty of chocolate?

New research suggests an extract of cocoa powder that occurs naturally in chocolates, teas, and other products might be an effective natural alternative to fluoride in toothpaste, according to Tulane University doctoral candidate Arman Sadeghpour.

Sadeghpour said his research revealed that the cocoa extract was even more effective than fluoride in fighting cavities, according to a news release from the university.

The extract, a white crystalline powder whose chemical makeup is similar to caffeine, helps harden teeth enamel, making users less susceptible to tooth decay, the study suggested.

The extract has been proven effective in the animal model, but it will probably be another two to four years before the product is approved for human use and available for sale, Sadeghpour said.

But he has already created a prototype of peppermint flavored toothpaste with the cavity-fighting cocoa extract added, and his doctoral thesis research compared the extract side by side to fluoride on the enamel surface of human teeth.

Sadeghpour's research group included scientists from Tulane, the University of New Orleans, and Louisiana State University's School of Dentistry.