They say you are what you eat – but did you know that the acidity of your mouth changes directly because of your diet?
Our modern diets have seen many major changes in our dietary acid intake, particularly with the prevalence of refined and processed foods. The worst food & drinks for your teeth, such as soft drinks, 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) which convert them to even more acid!
If you want to lessen the impact acidic drinks have on your teeth, then drinking through a straw can reduce the amount of acid that comes into contact with your teeth.
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 as pH decreases foods become more and more acidic. You can check the table below to see some pH values for some common drinks!
Thankfully, by understanding the impacts of your dietary acid intake and by performing proper oral maintenance, you can limit the effects that these foods have on your teeth.
Cola is the most acidic drink of all those listed (2.6 pH). However, juice
is also acidic (3.5 pH), but it is still considered healthy, and we discuss this below.
Your Enamel & Dental Erosion
Enamel is a mixture of organic tissue and minerals that coat 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 know 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 that are acidic such as unsweetened fruit juices, tomatoes and citrus fruit.
However, unlike fruit, certain acidic foods provide a negligible health benefit.‘Bad’ acidic foods generally fall into the ‘junk’ food category – high sugar content drinks and sweets. Gummy sweets and lollies are particularly bad as they stick to the teeth.
Are Dairy Foods Acidic?
Milk is considered close to neutral with a pH around 6.5 to 7.0. However, many dairy foods are acidic due to the chemical compounds within them. For example, yoghurts is acidic due to the presence of lactic acid.
“Most dairy products, such as natural yoghurt, cheese and milk, contain beneficial minerals that help strengthen your teeth. In particular, calcium, which 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 any acidity. The exceptions to this are sweetened dairy products, such as flavoured milk and ice-creams, which contain sugar which is harmful to your teeth.
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.
- Ask your dentist if there are any recommended treatments, such as fluoride varnishes or mouthwash that may help.
- If you are worried you may be suffering from dental erosion, a dental check-up should be your first priority.