Acidic Foods: Everything in Moderation

As the season changes, everyone wants to get healthy, but specific aspects of your health can be hard to understand when acidic foods and drinks are good for one part of our body, yet unhealthy for another. To succeed in this area, it's important to understand how your body systems change to help you process the things you eat.

What Is pH?

Your body's pH is one aspect of you that fluctuates all the time. The pH scale, as detailed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a measure of the acidity of a given substance, and ranges from 0 to 14 – with 0 pH being the most acidic and 14 pH the most basic (or alkaline). A substance with 7 pH is said to be a "neutral" substance that is neither acidic nor basic. In the body, however, the pH changes to help you digest acidic foods and drinks.

How Your Body Adapts

Saliva helps to keep your teeth and gums healthy by acting as a moisturizing substance, rinsing away germs and food debris while constantly remineralizing the hard tooth enamel as it confronts different products. When at rest, or when you're not eating or drinking, saliva should stay close to the neutral range of 6.5 to 7.5 pH. This prevents acid from eroding your enamel, contributing to tooth decay.

When Decay Occurs

Tooth decay starts at the surface. When the pH of your saliva lowers - the enamel enters a process of decalcification, wherein the newly acidic saliva creates a chemical process that removes various crucial minerals such as calcium, phosphorous and fluoride from the tooth. The earliest indications of this process are actually faint white spots on the enamel. If these white spots are allowed to progress – particularly the person continues to expose their tooth to these acids – the effect can dissolve through the entire layer of tooth enamel.

'Soda Mouth'

For example, per the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), if you sip on coffee (pH under 5) or diet soda (pH under 4) constantly throughout the day, you are altering the pH of your healthy saliva (6.5-7.5) with each drink. This exposes your teeth and gums to an environment where the enamel is damaged by the higher acidity, creating those white spots of decalcification. The process is compounded on each tooth throughout the mouth over time, and as NPR observes, dental professionals call this type of tooth decay "soda mouth."

Be Careful with Your Water

Demineralization can occur from sources other than soda, though, which is why Mayo Clinic touts the benefits of drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids throughout the day to encourage a proper balance. But because many individuals choose to infuse their water with lemon and other citrus fruits for flavor, this brings the pH of water lower than normal. The overall health benefits of the water could therefore be offset by the high acidity of citrus, doing harm to the enamel of your teeth without you realizing it.

Individuals must be aware of the harm citrus-infused water can do. To counteract the effects of even healthy drinks with neutral pH levels, it's recommended that consumers use a fluoride-containing toothpaste to reinforce the health of their teeth every day. The active ingredients in Colgate® Enamel Health Multi-Protection work to strengthen enamel in this way, reversing the damage of acid erosion before the enamel wears away permanently.

Resolving to "get healthy" can be as easy as working with a dental professional who's keen to the properties of the acidic foods and drinks you consume every day. Routine visits can also help to prevent the damaging effects of acid erosion. Dental professionals can especially detect weakened areas and recommend nutritional improvements that could very well prevent a filling in the future.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for a Healthy Diet

  • Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Making these foods a treat rather than a staple will help protect your teeth.

  • To maintain a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups.

  • When choosing a snack, go for nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.