Tooth decay can be multifactorial—in other words, there are several different things that can cause cavities to form. For example, a high sugar diet and dry mouth are frequent causes of cavities. Did you know that products with higher levels of acidity can also cause tooth decay? Acidic products can weaken tooth enamel by removing its necessary minerals for strength. When this occurs the tooth enamel becomes “demineralized” leaving the tooth at a higher risk for cavity formation. When bacteria are able to penetrate through this demineralized enamel, tooth decay (or cavities) can start.
“Okay, okay, I get it. I’m not supposed to eat a lot of sugar or ingest ACID? I don’t drink acid, doc.” Let’s first determine how acidity is measured. Typically, acidity is based on a pH scale. The pH scale is a measure of acidity or alkalinity of water soluble substances. PH actually stands for “potential of Hydrogen.” A pH is a numerical value on a scale of 1-14 with 7 as the middle or “neutral” point. Anything with a pH below 7 is considered “acidic”. A pH value above 7 is considered “basic” or alkaline. “Enough of all this technical stuff, doc. What does this mean?” Let’s take a look at a few things that are pretty acidic so you can get my drift. Battery acid, for instance, has a pH of 1—the most acidic on a pH scale. Yes, I know you aren’t going to drink battery acid with your dinner, but this will give us a relative point. Lemon and lime juice have a pH of 2. This is only ONE POINT above battery acid! So, you may not be guzzling down lemon juice in your free time, but I know we all have that one friend who loves to suck on lemons.
“Doc, give me an example that actually pertains to me!” Well, we do live in South Carolina, and it’s a common notion that we southerners ALL love sweet tea! Lipton Brisk, sweet ice tea, for example, has a pH of 2.7. Prefer soft drinks? Mountain Dew, Coke, and Sprite all have pHs of 3.22, 2.53, and 3.41 respectively. “Well, I drink DIET drinks, doc!” Diet Mountain Dew has a pH of 3.34, only 0.1 more basic than regular Mountain Dew. The acidity is there my friends! Coffee drinker? Coffee is at a pH of about 5.5, which is a lot better than some of the previously mentioned beverages. Generally speaking, anything other than water (pH of 7) is going to be a little acidic. (Note: some bottled water can be more acidic than tap water—but, that’s a different subject for a different day!)
“What’s the bottom line, doc?” I’m not telling you to never drink soft drinks, tea, or anything else that could have a low pH. I’m human for goodness sake, and love my coffee, sweet tea, and an occasional diet Coke every now and then! But, as with anything that isn’t necessarily good for us, we should do so in moderation! If you are a soft drink sipper, finish your drink in one sitting! If you sip on acidic beverages ALL DAY, you are continually lowering the pH in your mouth—this can be a breeding ground for cavity causing bacteria!!! When in doubt, rinse it out (with water, that is). And of course, brushing at least twice a day will help to keep your dentist at bay!
Cara Coleman Lawson, DMD
For a more detailed list of acidic beverages, head to 21stcenturydental.com and check out some of their patient education.Read More