The Connection Between Diet and Tooth Decay
Unfortunately, many foods and beverages that we consume every day can have negative effects on the enamel that protects our teeth.
This damage can eventually lead to tooth erosion and decay.
Even foods that seem harmless may contain sugars and acids that damage tooth enamel.
On the pH scale, 1.0 is very acidic (battery acid for example) and 7 is neutral (like water). Water or milk are considered neutral and non-erosive to teeth, while fruit juices, sodas, energy drinks are highly acidic and cause erosion of tooth enamel.
Not only can tooth erosion lead to decay, it can also cause sensitivity and change the appearance of your teeth. Brushing and flossing twice per day is the best way to prevent erosion and tooth decay. However, there are other steps that you can also take to minimize your overall risk. First, let’s discuss some aspects of your diet that may be exponentially increasing your risk for erosion and decay.
Food and drinks that are high in sugar content are harmful to the teeth. However, food and drinks that are more acidic, also damage the teeth. When you combine high sugar and acid content, you have a recipe for disaster. Citrus, citrus-flavored, carbonated, and sour foods and drinks are more acidic and should be avoided as much as possible. Other culprits include soda (even diet, due to the acid content), fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffee, tea, and wine. All of these beverages are high in either sugar or acid content, or worse, both. Things that are sticky like dried fruit and candy should also be avoided as they adhere to the teeth and cause issues long after you stop eating them.
Obviously, most people don’t want to live off of raw vegetables and water for the sake of their teeth.
I’m not giving up my morning coffee and I certainly don’t expect any of my patients to do the same.
You may be wondering what you can do to combat the harmful effects of sugars and acids. First and foremost, limiting consumption is the best form of prevention. However, if you just can’t live without that glass of orange juice or can of soda, it’s best to just drink it and get it over with versus sipping on it over a long period of time. Using a straw can also be helpful. Many people may think that brushing immediately after consuming anything sugary or acidic is the best way to protect their teeth. This is not the case. You’re actually causing more harm by spreading the acid around the entire mouth while removing enamel at the same time. It’s a good idea to wait an hour before brushing, allowing saliva a chance to wash away acids and re-mineralize the teeth. You can also rinse your mouth with water, drink milk, or enjoy a snack of cheese. Water, as well as dairy and other calcium-rich foods can help neutralize acidity. Finally, studies have shown that chewing an ADA approved sugar-free gum for 20 minutes can help increase saliva flow while also helping to pull debris and food out of the deep grooves of the teeth.
It’s important to understand that other intrinsic and environmental factors may be involved in tooth erosion and decay aside from diet. People suffering from acid reflux or GERD, bulimia, chronic alcoholism are typically at a much higher risk for tooth decay. Pregnancy can also make people more susceptible to decay due to changing hormones and greater tendency to have GERD during pregnancy. If you think any of these factors might be playing a role in your oral health, I highly encourage you to bring it up at your next dental visit. Although it may seem like an overwhelming or embarrassing conversation to have, it can really make a difference in not only the health of your teeth, but also your overall health.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your teeth and erosion, or if you would like additional information regarding the acidity levels of different foods and drinks, please let us know at your next dental appointment.
Emily H., RDH