How Acids Impact Dental Health
Dental health isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind while enjoying a refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. We’re not saying you shouldn’t indulge here and there, but when you understand how acids impact teeth, it definitely makes you think twice about what you eat or drink. Because your adult teeth are permanent, it’s important that you care for them in more ways than just brushing, flossing, and semi-annual dental visits.
While all of those steps are necessary to keep your dental health in top shape, what most people don’t realize is diet also plays a major role. To get you all caught up to speed, we’re going to be covering how acids affect your dental health, acidic foods to avoid, and ways you can strengthen your teeth.
Even though sugar is often pinned as public enemy number one when it comes to dental health, acidic foods can be just as harmful. Acids are commonly found in items such as citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, etc.), candy, soda, coffee, and alcohol to name a few. While they may taste good, the acidic nature of these foods can slowly eat away at your enamel and leave your teeth more susceptible to lasting damage like tooth decay.
Not only is enamel the most highly mineralized substance in the body, but it also acts as defensive “shell” that protects your teeth from the damaging effects of acid and plaque. However, unlike your immune system that can bounce back after a crippling blow, enamel doesn’t regenerate. Once it’s lost, it’s gone forever.
Typically, a healthy mouth is sitting somewhere between 6 and 8 on the pH scale, with 7 being considered neutral. As you start to move
lower on the scale and things become more acidic, you’re at a higher risk of causing damage to your teeth. To put things into perspective, enamel erosion begins at a pH level of 4. Common household items such as orange juice and soda come in around 3, while some “sour” candy can get as low as 2 – almost the equivalent of battery acid!
Whenever you consume something acidic, you expose your teeth to what’s commonly known as an “acid attack”. Lasting about 20 minutes with each exposure, acid attacks work to slowly demineralize your enamel. What ends up happening is the bacteria in your mouth reacts with food to produce lactic acid and other harmful byproducts begin to eat away at your teeth.
Over time, if you don’t take proper care of your dental health, enamel will completely erode and leave your teeth exposed to whatever you eat and drink.
Common Signs of Enamel Erosion
Though the best way to keep tabs on your enamel health is by regularly going to the dentist so they can observe thickness and any weak areas, there are a few signs you can look out for that indicate damage has taken place.
If you start noticing your teeth have a faint yellow tint that you can’t seem to get rid of, there’s a good chance that you’re actually seeing the dentin INSIDE your teeth. Dentin is the living layer of tissue that resides below enamel and serves as the home to the sensory nerves that send information to the brain. When it becomes exposed as enamel gets worn down, the natural yellow coloring will start to show.
Have your teeth started becoming unusually sensitive to hot or cold foods? This is often one of the first symptoms of enamel erosion that you’ll notice. When the protective layer of enamel is no longer there to diffuse sensory input, you’re essentially exposing your nerves to direct temperature differences. This can cause a fair amount of discomfort and generally requires dental intervention to properly diagnose and treat the problem.
Another common symptom of enamel erosion is tooth transparency. If you look at your teeth in the mirror and notice that you can see through the edges, it’s a good sign that your enamel has started wearing down. Even though enamel is generally opaque in color, as it gets thinner, it becomes easier to see the dentin underneath. If you catch this early enough, you can still reverse your dietary and dental hygiene habits to preserve what’s left.
Acidic Food to Avoid
Just as you would avoid certain foods when on a weight loss diet, protecting your oral health from the damaging effects of acid also requires a proactive approach. To help you figure out what you should avoid at the grocery store, below, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of foods that negatively impact your teeth.
1. Sugary Foods
Even though sugar by itself is a neutral substance (not acidic or alkaline), when broken down by the bacteria in your mouth, acids are the primary byproduct. When exposed, acids slowly but surely break down enamel while also making your teeth more susceptible to cavities. Cavities occur when the acids left behind from sugary foods infect exposed surfaces of your teeth. When allowed to progress far enough, cavities can eventually make it to the deeper layers and cause a multitude of problems, including tooth loss.
2. Sour Candy
Of all the foods on this list, sour candy is by far one of the most damaging to your teeth. Capable of reaching pH levels close to that of battery acid, sour candies typically combine strong citrus elements with an abundance of sugar.
Even though they may taste good, each exposure is essentially bathing your teeth in strong acidand letting the bacteria have a field day. This is especially true if the candy has a sticky consistency, increasing the likelihood of remnants getting stuck between your teeth and causing constant acid attacks.
3. Sodas & Fruit Juice
Not only are sodas bad for your health overall, but they also happen to be one of the most damaging drinks you can consume. With most coming in at a pH level of 2-3, these tasty beverages are typically loaded with citric and phosphoric acids in addition to copious amounts of delicious sugar.
That being said, fruit juices are also highly acidic in nature and damaging to your enamel. Just because the labels say things like “all natural” and “100% real juice” doesn’t make them any healthier for your oral health.
Alcoholic beverages like beer and wine are actually damaging to your teeth on two different fronts – not to ruin your weekend plans. Because the acid content of liquor, wine, and beer are all different, the extent to which your teeth are negatively affected depends on what you’re drinking and how often you indulge.
Mix drinks are particularly dangerous for your teeth since they’re commonly made with sodas and other high-sugar mixers. In addition to exposing your teeth to acid, alcohol consumption can also dry your mouth out and lead to the proliferation of bacteria.
As great as coffee is for an early morning jumpstart or the midday pick me up, drinking it too often can do more than just stain your teeth and cause bad breath. Not only is coffee highly acidic, but it also reacts with the natural bacteria in your mouth to produce even more enamel damaging acids.
While we’re not saying that you should avoid it altogether, moderation is key. Having two cups a day and keeping up with a healthy dental routine should easily counteract any negative effect. However, if you’re really worried about your coffee consumption, you can always use a straw to reduce surface exposure.
6. Citrus Fruits
Fruits are often viewed as a natural, healthy snack food because they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. Even though this is true, citrus fruits are one of the leading culprits of enamel erosion whether consumed whole, dried, or even canned. The high concentration of malic and citric acids in fruit are responsible for both the sour taste we love so much and the damage caused to teeth.
Due to the powerful flavor profiles of these acids, many popular sodas and candy brands use citrus in their products. While it doesn’t hurt to indulge every now and then, make sure you watch your consumption.
Commonly found in many popular salad dressings, vinegar sits with an enamel melting pH level of about 2.4. However, even if you don’t eat salads on the regular, vinegar is a popular ingredient in other foods such as pickles, sauces, and even potato chips.
Studies have found that people who consume vinegar on a near daily basis are at a much higher risk of experiencing enamel erosion. The news isn’t all bad though. If you find it hard to separate yourself from this delectable ingredient, a quick rinse of the mouth after consuming food with vinegar will help to limit the damaging effects.
How to Strengthen Your Teeth
Up until this point, we’ve been talking a lot about the ways acid negatively impacts our teeth as well as a going over a laundry list of food and drinks that should be limited or avoided if possible. Switching things up, in this section, we’re going to talk about the different ways you can strengthen your teeth and bolster the defensive properties of enamel so it can better withstand the damaging effects of acid.
The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard you try, it’s almost impossible to completely eliminate acids from your diet. Instead, in addition to watching what you eat and drink, you can adopt the following tips to keep your dental health in top shape.
Eat Foods High In Calcium & Phosphorus
In addition to your bones, teeth make up about 99% of all calcium found in the body. When acids start to wear your enamel down, what’s actually happening is a process known as demoralization. During this process, essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus are leached from the enamel, leaving it in a weakened state.
Consuming foods high in calcium and phosphorus (like dairy products) will help to generalize your enamel and keep it strong. As an added bonus, calcium acts to neutralize acids in the mouth, effectively stopping acid erosion in its tracks.
Chew Sugar Free Gum
Believe it or not, one of the best defenses against harmful acids is something your body produces naturally – saliva. Even though you probably don’t spend much time thinking about it, saliva actually carries a number of beneficial antimicrobials and beneficial minerals. As it coats the teeth, antimicrobials act to neutralize plaque forming bacteria while the calcium and phosphorus bolster your enamel.
If you’re wondering how sugar free gum works into the picture, it’s actually been proven that chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva. Not only will this help to protect your enamel, but it can also prevent plaque buildup and the onset of gingivitis.
Use Fluoride Toothpaste
When shopping for toothpaste, it’s easy to get lost browsing through the dozens of brands without paying attention to what’s really important – fluoride. This powerful mineral works in a number of different ways from helping to rebuild weakened enamel to reversing the early signs of tooth decay.
Even though most toothpastes will contain fluoride, it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients and make sure yours has it. One of the easiest ways to narrow your search down is by looking for brands that have the ADA seal of acceptance.
Adopt Better Dental Hygiene Habits
While everything we’ve mentioned up until this point can help protect your enamel and overall dental health, nothing will work better than a thorough cleaning routine. Brushing at least twice a day for two minutes will help make sure the surfaces of your teeth never have too much plaque or bacterial build up.
For the areas your brush can’t reach, flossing regularly can free up pesky bits of food that get stuck between your teeth and gums. Lastly, visiting your local dentist at least twice a year for cleanings will keep your health in check while also giving you a jumpstart on any problems that occur.