Most people love eating fruits: they're sweet, juicy and can be a healthy source of high vitamin C. However, because fruits and fruit drinks can be very acidic, consuming highly acidic foods and drinks every day can harm teeth without the right aftercare. Eating acidic fruits — and other foods — can eventually cause tooth enamel to wear away, leading to things like dental erosion and tooth sensitivity. You can still reap the benefits of eating the healthy foods you love by being aware of acid's effect on your teeth — and caring for your dental health accordingly!
What Is Acidity?
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 and measures the level of acidity or alkalinity (also known as basicity) of a substance, whether a food, liquid or the saliva in your mouth. Substances that fall below a pH of 7 are considered acidic and those above 7 are alkaline.
When at rest or when you're not eating or drinking, your saliva should stay close to the neutral range of 6.5 to 7.5 pH. This prevents acid from eroding your enamel and contributing to tooth decay.
Which Foods Are Most Acidic?
Because high-acid foods can cause decay, sensitivity and discoloration, it's important to consume them in moderation. Here are some highly acidic foods and drinks to be mindful of:
- Citrus fruits — lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines and oranges
- Apples, grapes, peaches, pomegranates, blueberries, pineapples
- Fruit juices and sodas (both regular and diet)
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Jams and jellies
Make an effort to eat and drink foods that would not contribute to erosion, like these non-acidic foods and non-acidic beverages:
- Beans, including black, soy, kidney and lima
- Corn, peas, peppers, asparagus, spinach and broccoli
- Fish, including salmon, shrimp and crab meat
- Green tea
- Potatoes, rice and yams
- Watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydew melons
- Ripe mangoes, bananas and papayas
What Is Dental Erosion?
As hard as tooth enamel is, the high acid content in many foods and juices can cause it to weaken and demineralize over time. The calcium in saliva can help strengthen enamel, but when the environment in your mouth is too acidic, remineralization will not occur. This leads to tooth erosion and decay. Some common signs of erosion include:
- Sensitivity — Hot and cold foods, strongly-flavored sweets and even cold air can produce sensitivitywhen in contact with your teeth.
- Discoloration — Your teeth might appear slightly yellower as your enamel becomes thinner, exposing the dentin underneath.
- Rounded teeth — Teeth may appear to have softer or sanded edges, or as if there are small dents along the chewing surface.
- Transparency — The edges of your incisors (front teeth) may lessen in opacity, appearing as if you can almost see through them.
- Cracks — Tiny faults or a sharpness along the edges of the teeth are also common.
Preventing Enamel Erosion
You don't have to give up acidic foods to prevent erosion. Here are a few tips to keep your teeth healthy:
- Never suck on lemons, limes or any highly acidic fruit. Putting these fruits against your teeth for any period of time is a sure way to soften the enamel on your teeth.
- Use a straw when drinking fruit juices. This keeps it from coming in direct contact with your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with water after eating fruit to dilute the acids in your mouth, and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to give your enamel time to resettle.
- Keep your enamel strong by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Eat cheese after your fruit. This raises the pH levels in your mouth and increases saliva production, which also helps neutralize acids.
Of course it's essential to eat a balanced diet — with lots of fruits and vegetables — to get enough vitamin C. Just remember to take precautions to keep acidic foods from hurting your teeth. To promote strong teeth, brush and floss daily, add more nonacidic foods to your diet and limit your consumption of acidic foods and drinks. Visit your dentist regularly to discuss your enamel and ways to maintain a healthy smile.