In an earlier post, we discussed the hazards and hidden sources of sugar. Most of our patients know that sugar has unpleasant consequences for their teeth, weight, and even their mood, but few understand the consequences of acid on their oral health.
Sudbury, MA dentist Dr. Janice Spada explains how the acidity of your favorite beverages affects the health and appearance of your teeth.
Sugar, Acid, and Your Teeth
The sugar itself doesn’t directly damage your teeth. Actually, acidity is to blame. Your mouth harbors millions of different types of bacteria, not all of which are bad. When these bacteria mix and mingle with sugar and starch from your food or beverages, they form smelly, sticky plaque, a film that coats the surfaces of your teeth.
In doing so, they excrete acid that immediately sets to work attacking the protective enamel covering your teeth. If not removed by rinsing or brushing, small pits form in the enamel, making your teeth more prone to staining.
The weakened enamel affords little protection against further exposure to acids and plaque, and your risk for tooth decay and gum disease increase accordingly.
How Acidic Is Your Favorite Beverage?
Let’s start with pure drinking water, which has a pH of 7. A substance that has a pH of less than 7 is considered acidic, and any substance with a pH exceeding 7 qualifies as acidic. Of course, water will always be the ideal beverage because it keeps your mouth hydrated and rinses away sugar and leftover food before plaque forms.
A pH between 6.4 and 6.8 makes cows’ milk only marginally more acidic than water. Dairy alternatives, such as almond milk and soy milk are even less acidic. Adding dairy creamer or milk to your morning coffee lowers its acidity.
You can also increase or decrease the acidity of your coffee and tea by brewing it more or less strongly than usual. Note that the acidity of your morning brew is in no way linked to its caffeine content. Switching to decaffeinated blends will not reduce acidity.
Patients often ask about the acidity of fruit juice. Some fruits have a higher pH than others. For example, pure lemon or lime juice has a pH of 2, making limeades and lemonades especially harsh on teeth.
Another strike against lemonade—the extreme sourness of lemon juice means manufacturers must add significant amounts of sugar to counter the sour taste. The respective pH of orange juice, grape juice, and apple juice range from 3 to 4.
Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, Pepsi, and similar sodas are highly acidic, with pH ranging from 2-3, comparable to the acidity of gastric juices. Like lemonade, these drinks contain unhealthy amounts of added sugar, making them particularly damaging to tooth enamel. The carbonic and phosphoric acid in sodas doesn’t help, either.
Sports drinks and energy drinks have become popular in the past few years, much to the chagrin of dentists everywhere. With a pH of 2, these highly acidic, sugary beverages should be avoided at all costs. Part of the problem is that manufacturers often tout these drinks as healthy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Protecting Teeth From Acidity
After drinking or eating acidic substances, rinse your mouth with plain water for 30 seconds, then expectorate. Do not brush your teeth immediately afterward, as this can inflict more damage to the weakened enamel.
Wait 30 minutes before brushing, chewing sugar-free gum in the meantime. If your teeth have been badly damaged by an acidic diet, Dr. Spada may recommend fluoride supplements or treatments to restore the health of your tooth enamel.
Has coffee, tea, or soda left your teeth stained and damaged? To learn more about restoring the health of your teeth, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Janice Spada, contact our Boston, MA area dentist office at (978) 443-3111. We welcome patients living in Sudbury, Framingham, Marlborough, Worcester, and the neighboring areas.