They say you are what you eat, but did you know that the acidity of your mouth can change directly because of your diet?
The modern diet has seen many some major changes in our dietary acid intake, particularly with the prevalence of refined and processed foods. The worst drinks for our teeth, such as soft drinks like cola, are not only acidic but also contain high amounts of sugar. In a vicious cycle, these sugars are broken down by bacteria in your mouth (plaque) to create even more acid!
So what is a dietary acid? A neutral substance, such as milk or water, has a pH close to 7, while those considered acidic are lower than 7. Acidic products include fruit juices, soft drinks & vinegar products, and you can check the table below to see some pH values for some common drinks!
Cola is the most acidic of all those listed at 2.6 pH – we explain why juices are considered healthy despite their acidity later in this article.
Thankfully, by understanding the impacts of our dietary acid intake and by performing proper oral maintenance, we can limit the effects that these foods have on your teeth.
Your Enamel & Dental Erosion
Enamel is a mixture of organic tissue and minerals that coats the outer surfaces of your teeth – did you know that it is the hardest substance in the human body?
Despite its toughness, any time your teeth come into contact with an acidic substance, your enamel weakens making your tooth more susceptible to decay. In one study, it was found that soft-drink consumption in the western world has risen 300% in just 20 years.
When these acids are frequently in contact with your teeth over a long period of time, the constant weakening can dissolve away your enamel at a faster rate than your body is able to remineralize it. This process is known as dental erosion, and can lead to the loss of the surface of your tooth.
Can Acidic Foods Be Healthy Too?
It is important to realize that it is impossible to avoid dietary acids altogether. In fact, just because a food is acidic does not mean that you should not eat it! This is particularly relevant when discussing healthy foods such as unsweetened fruit juices.
However, unlike fruit, many other acidic foods provide a negligible health benefit. These ‘bad’ acidic foods generally fall into the ‘junk’ food category – high sugar content drinks and sweets. Particularly bad are sugary foods that stick to the teeth like gummy lollies.
What About Dairy?
“Many dairy products, such as natural yoghurt, cheese and milk, contain beneficial minerals that help strengthen your teeth. Calcium, in particular, is essential to the formation and maintenance of healthy teeth, and is widely regarded as a vital element for good overall health,” explains Alice.
As a rule of thumb, most dairy products are laden with enough good minerals to help counteract their acidity. The exceptions to this are sweetened dairy products, such as flavoured milks and ice-creams.
What Can You Do to Manage Your Oral pH?
Drink plenty of water to promote saliva flow, and rinse with water after acidic foods or drinks.
- Use straws and avoid swishing acidic drinks around your mouth, and foods that stick to the teeth.
- Try to keep your intake of acids to main meal times and try to limit snacking.
- If you are concerned, ask your dentist if there are any recommended treatments, such as fluoride varnishes that may help.
- If you are worried you may be suffering from dental erosion and you haven’t seen a professional, a dental check-up should be your first priority.