You probably know that sugary foods can damage your teeth because bacteria in your mouth consume the sugar and produce acid. But many other foods can damage your teeth as well by being acidic themselves. If you’re aware which foods these are, you will know better how to protect your teeth from them.
How Acidic Is Too Acidic?
The scale of acidity is the pH level, which is based on the number of free hydrogen ions there are that can attack your tooth enamel (and other compounds). A pH of 7 is neutral, and higher numbers are basic. It’s a logarithmic scale, so a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4. A 4 is where serious tooth enamel loss begins, although technically any pH below 5.5 will dissolve tooth enamel.
Canned Tomatoes Are Worse
You may have heard that tomatoes are acidic, and it’s true. Tomatoes naturally have a pH of about 4.3-4.9, so they’re not a major concern. However, canned tomatoes can be much more acidic. Tomato puree can have a pH of 3.3. If you can, try making your own tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes, or at least avoid canned tomatoes in making your sauce.
Not All Citrus Is Created Equal
Citrus fruit is good for you because it’s high in vitamin C, but it can be bad for your teeth because of its high acidity. Not all citrus fruit is equally dangerous to your teeth.
Oranges are your best bet–their pH is about 3.7-4.3, so only mildly damaging.
Grapefruits are much more acidic, ranging from 3.0-3.8, and lemons and limes can have a pH as low as 2, so try to avoid eating them too often..
Hot & Spicy Mess
If Buffalo wings are among your favorite game day treats, beware. Buffalo hot sauce is high in vinegar, and like similar hot sauces it has a pH of about 2.8.
And although many of the ingredients in salsa, such as tomato and onion are only mildly acidic, salsa can contain either vinegar or citrus juice, which can lower the pH significantly.
Grapes not so Great for Your Teeth
Grapes can seem like a convenient, healthy fruit to snack on, but they can be bad for your teeth. Niagara, Concord, and seedless grapes can all have a pH below 3. While we’re talking about fruits, it’s worth mentioning that pomegranates and many plums also have a pH of under 3. Cranberry juice is almost as bad as lemon juice, with a pH of about 2.3.
The King Is Beer
Many drinks are very acidic and bad for the teeth. Sports drinks can have a pH of around 3, as do many sodas, although colas are significantly lower, pushing the 2.0 mark. And remember the fruit juices we mentioned as being acidic. If you are looking for a healthy soft drink for your teeth, stick to milk or water.
Wine is among the most acidic of alcoholic beverages. It is often around 3.0. Hard liquor is not as acidic (although everything but some vodkas is acidic to an extent), but once you start mixing it with citrus juice and soda, the pH drops significantly.
The best alcoholic drink for your teeth is beer, with a pH of about 4. Although craft beers may be tastier, a simple American lager gets tooth-healthy points for having fewer staining compounds.
Are My Teeth Being Eroded?
How do you know if the acidic foods and drinks you are consuming are leading to tooth damage? Watch for several signs of tooth erosion, such as:
- Sensitivity. Your teeth can become more sensitive to heat, cold, and sweets as they lose their protective enamel.
- Discoloration. Your teeth can look more yellow as the enamel thins, allowing darker tooth layers to show through. This type of discoloration doesn’t respond to teeth whitening.
- Changes in tooth shape. Acid can cause your teeth to change shape as they wear down: they can become shorter and more rounded.
- Cracks and chips. As your teeth weaken, they are more likely to chip and crack. Sometimes you might not see or notice the cracks, but you feel the grit in your mouth.
- Cupping. Erosion-sped wear can lead to cup-shaped indentations in your teeth. You might also notice that your fillings seem to be rising up out of your teeth.
If you notice these symptoms of erosion, it’s important to see a dentist right away.
If You Eat Acidic Foods
We’re not telling you to avoid these foods–that would be impossible, especially come game day–but if you do consume them, be smart. Here are some tips to protect your teeth from damage.
- Neutralize the acid. After you eat these foods, rinse your mouth with water or a high-pH food to neutralize the acid. Cheese is a great way to end a meal–it has significant protective properties. Not only does it neutralize acid, it cleans your teeth of cavity-causing sugars, and it contains antibacterial enzymes.
- Use a straw. Straws reduce the contact between acidic liquids and your teeth. It’s also a good idea to finish drinks quickly rather than sipping them over long periods of time. If you’re afraid this will make you consume too much alcohol or calories, you can always sip a cup of water in between acidic drinks.
- Prepare your own. Brewed tea has a fairly neutral acidity–pH about 5. But many prepared teas are much more acidic. Not only do they have citrus added for flavor–acids help preserve drinks for a longer shelf life.
- Wait before brushing. Don’t rush to brush your teeth after eating acidic foods–your tooth enamel may be softened, and you may actually do more harm than good.
And, of course, don’t forget to call (702) 873-0324 to make your regular dental checkups.
To learn more about maintaining your oral health or to schedule an appointment, please contact Dr. Polley.