Nothing is so refreshing as a gulp of our favorite drink. It is well known that we need plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, but often not considered when drinking something we love, is whether that drink is doing damage to our teeth. There are many drinks that can harm our teeth and begin to eat away at the enamel, exposing the part of our tooth made of dentin. This erosion can cause staining, sensitivity, and vulnerability to plaque and bacteria. In general, our teeth can begin to lose their integrity and erode when we drink fluids that have a pH of approximately 5.5 (this is acidic). To gain an understanding of the acidic side of the pH scale, we know that battery acid has a pH of 1 and water has a pH of 7 (neutral). That means the smaller the number, the more acidic, and the more harm can be done to our teeth over time. When drinks have a pH greater than 7 (but still close to 7), they can actually help guard our teeth against erosion, although checking with your dentist is always recommended.
In addition to acidic drinks, sugary drinks can also harm our teeth, since sugar boosts the growth of acid-creating bacteria, which can make for a hazardous environment in the mouth, especially when left for a long time without brushing or rinsing. Sugar promotes decay and encourages plaque formation on the teeth.
Let’s look at the pH levels in some common acidic drinks (this is not a comprehensive list):
||4.41 - 4.83|
|A&W Root Beer
|A&W Crème Soda
||4.1 - 4.6|
||3.95 - 3.97|
||3.9 - 4.3|
|Diet Dr. Pepper
|Dole Pineapple Juice
|Diet Mountain Dew
||3.3 - 4.19|
|Hawaiian Fruit Punch
|Welch’s White Grape
||2 - 2.5|
||2 - 2.5|
|Stomach acid (not a drink)
||1 - 2 (lower if vomiting)|
|Battery Acid (not a drink)
||0 - 1|
Pickles, tomatoes, sour candy, and alcohol are also quite acidic!
Another thing to consider is that when a pH number is computed a logarithm is used, which means that when there is a one-point change in pH, there is a change in acidity of 10 times. So, if grapefruit juice has a pH of 3 and lemon juice has a pH of 2, the lemon juice is 10 times more acidic than the grapefruit juice. That can cause some real damage if we love gulping lemon juice!
In addition to the erosion of enamel, other problems can arise from acidic drinks, including:
Transparency of the teeth on the edges
Rounded teeth (edges wear away)
Discoloration (more yellow as dentin is exposed)
We can reduce the amount of damage acid does to our teeth by practicing some of the following habits:
Rinse with water after drinking acidic or sugary drinks
Drink through a straw so that less fluid comes in contact with the teeth
Have milk or cheese at the end of your meal
Have acidic drinks with food, not alone
Simply cut out acidic and sugary drinks
Our mouths also have a natural defense mechanism in the form of saliva. Saliva helps buffer the effects of acid and helps re-mineralize our teeth to fortify against damage, so avoid getting a dry mouth and stay hydrated with plenty of water.
One more thing to keep in mind is that once you have had an acidic drink, the enamel on the teeth is weakened, so it is best to wait about 30 minutes before brushing, since the enamel is compromised soon after exposure to acid. Brushing too soon can cause more damage.
Since acid erosion is irreversible, restorative dentistry can help with previously damaged teeth.