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Don’t Let Your Teeth Erode Away

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

It’s summertime and time to watch out for foods that can harm your teeth.

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body when it’s supported by dentin (the underlying layer of tooth structure). Although it is the most highly mineralized and toughest substance in the body, it is not impervious to acid attacks and erosion.

Tooth erosion, or tooth wear, is the loss of the surrounding tooth structure. This loss occurs when the enamel is worn away by acid. Over time, this erosion can leave your teeth sensitive, cracked, discolored and even make them look transpar­ent. The source of the acid can be from the foods we eat or from cer­tain medical conditions that cause tooth erosion, such as acid reflux and bulimia.

With the warmer weather people tend to increase their consumption of carbonated beverages, pure fruit juice, energy and sports drinks, which all contain high levels of acid and can cause tooth erosion, especially when consumed in large amounts.

The following food choices can contribute to the wear and tear of teeth:

  • Soft Drinks. The problems with soda are twofold: first, the sugar content is bad for your teeth. The second bad part is the acidity, which is quite high in soda. Even if the beverages you’re drinking are diet, they still strip minerals from tooth enamel because of their high acid content. They contain corrosive acids like phosphoric, malic, citric, and tartaric. And the flavor of the fizz matters. They all have an impact, but in a study, clear, citrus-flavored bubbly beverages dissolved enamel two to five times more than colas did.

  • Sports Drinks. In a study comparing the erosive effects of five different beverages – including juice and soda – sports drinks did the most harm. Their high concentration of strong acids produced the deepest enamel damage in teeth.

  • Energy Drinks. In a study comparing five beverages, energy drinks were second worst after sports drinks – mainly because they had little ability to buffer the acids in the beverage. Drinks like these are an especially bad idea for adolescents and young adults, whose tooth enamel is less mature and more porous.

  • Fruit and Fruit Juices. Fruit juices, especially citrus, apple, and berry varieties, are loaded with the kinds of acids that wear down tooth enamel. Frequent fruit juice consumption has been linked to an increased risk of enamel erosion. Of course, juices also have some great healthy qualities like vitamins and antioxidants. So don’t give them up. Just drink them in moderation and eat fruit with a meal to help minimize the effects from the acid. As an extra measure, rinse afterward and choose calcium-fortified juices that may pose less of a hazard to tooth enamel. Finally, don’t suck on lemons or limes because that can quickly erode your tooth enamel.

  • Sour Candy. In a study comparing regular chewy candy, hard candy, and licorice to their sour counterparts, sour varieties were significantly harder on tooth enamel. Candy manufacturers add more acids – or different kinds of acid – to sour candy varieties to give them that pucker factor. It’s those “tangy” acids that can create deep craters in your tooth enamel.

Acidity (the pH) of some common foods and drinks

Acidic content (aka pH) is measured on a scale of 0 (most acidic) to 14 (least). Battery acid is a 1 on the scale — tap water is a 7. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity and therefore the higher risk of erosion.

  • Mango sours 1.6

  • Lemon Juice 2.0-2.6

  • Sports drinks 2.3-4.4

  • Coca Cola 2.6

  • Iced Tea 2.9-3.0

  • Orange Juice 3.3-4.2

  • Red Wine 3.4

  • White Wine 3.7

  • Plain Yogurt 4.2

  • Milk 6.4-6.8

  • Water 7.3

Healthy tooth enamel means healthy teeth. Enamel damage is irreversible so take the time to protect those pearly whites. Here are some tips from the Academy of General Dentistry to help prevent tooth erosion:

  • Cut down on your consumption of carbonated beverages, sports and energy drinks, and pure fruit juice. If you have to drink soda, drink it with a meal instead of sip­ping on it between meals.

  • Drink acidic drinks quickly and with a straw. This helps prevent acid from coming in contact with your teeth. Also, don’t swish these liquids around or hold them in your mouth for long periods of time.

  • After consuming acidic drinks, rinse your mouth with water to neutralize the acids and wait at least one hour before brushing your teeth.

  • Chew sugar-free gum, which helps your mouth produce more saliva to remineralize your teeth.

  • Brush with a soft toothbrush and be sure your toothpaste contains a high amount of fluoride.

  • Don’t let your child consume highly acidic drinks or fruit juices in his or her sippy cup or bottle.

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