Enamel is one of the densest substances in the body, even more than bone. It is highly resistant to the wear and tear we put on it each and every day. In addition to the mechanical action of chewing, grinding and clenching our teeth, acidic erosion is another way our teeth can be harmed by our daily habits. Acids are substances with a low pH, where as bases have a high pH. Water is neutral with a pH of 7. When we think about the acids that can be harmful to our teeth, most people think of soda, sports drinks and sour candies. Some people are surprised to learn that many of the sources of acids in our diets come from otherwise really healthy foods such as citrus fruits, cherries, berries, fruit juices, tea and vinegar. That doesn't mean you should necessarily avoid these foods to protect your teeth, but here are some tips to minimize the damage they cause:
- Limit the frequency of acid intake rather than the amount. It's better to have a large glass of orange juice all in one sitting with breakfast than it is to sip on it slowly throughout the whole morning.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after consuming acidic foods. You can swish with water afterwards to rinse the acids off your teeth but do not brush for at least 30 minutes as you will actually brush the acids into your teeth more. This also applies to after vomiting or after a bought of acid reflux because the acids from your stomach are very strong.
- Brush with a fluoridated toothpaste at least twice a day. Fluoride helps keep the enamel on your teeth strong.
- Make sure to include interdental homecare as a part of your daily routine such as flossing or waterpiking (if you are interested in learning about different interdental cleaning techniques, feel free to ask Anna or Julie!). The plaque that sits on your teeth secret acids as a byproduct of their metabolism so thorough daily cleaning on all surfaces of your teeth, including in between them, is vital.
- Avoid sucking on sour candies or "parking" them in your cheek. This causes a constant acid attack in your mouth while consuming them. If you enjoy sucking on candies, try sugar-free candies or gum made with xylitol. Xyltiol is a naturally-occuring sugar alcohol that is derived from trees and/or corn. It sweetens products so it still tastes good but doesn't cause cavities the way cane sugar does. Additionally, xylitol is lethal to the bad bacteria that live in your mouth.
- Stimulate your salivary flow. In addition to the benefits listed above, sugar-free gums, mints and candies stimulate your salivary flow which is beneficial because your own saliva is a buffering system in your mouth to neutralize acidic attacks. Try enjoying these after acidic meals or beverages to help bring your oral pH back to neutral more quickly.
- When you do enjoy an acidic beverage, avoid holding or swishing it in your mouth. Using a straw is ideal because it will minimize the acids contact on your teeth.
- When enjoying acidic foods, try balancing them with foods with a higher pH in the same sitting such as dairy products.
If your acid exposure is excessive enough, it can cause erosion of your teeth which reduces the amount of tooth structure present, therefore weakening the tooth and leaving it vulnerable to other dental problems such as fractures and decay. It can also lead to tooth sensitivity. When the outermost layer of tooth structure is eroded away (the enamel), the next layer called dentin is exposed. Dentin is much less dense than enamel, so sensory input can travel into the middle of the tooth where the nerve sits much more easily. This means that it may be uncomfortable when eating ice cream, drinking cold water or rinsing your mouth out with cold water (such as during a dental appointment). Not all tooth sensitivity is caused by acid erosion, so if you are experiencing symptoms with your teeth, please let us know so we can try to find cause.
Written by: Anna Hautzenrader, RDH