When you enjoy sugary foods, the bacteria in your mouth create acids that can erode tooth enamel. Eating more nonacidic foods may help you avoid enamel wear and keep your mouth healthy. Here's what you need to know about food acidity and how what you consume affects your teeth.
What Is Tooth Erosion?
Tooth erosion is the wearing away and weakening of tooth enamel, most commonly by acid in the mouth. Acids may be found in carbonated drinks, such as sodas (even diet versions), pure fruit juices, many fresh fruits and wine. Conditions, such as acid reflux or bulimia, may also result in acid damaging enamel over time.
When your enamel is worn away, you may notice some tooth sensitivity when eating hot, cold or sweet foods and drinks. The biting edges of your teeth may seem to be transparent, or your teeth may take on a yellowish appearance.
If you notice signs or symptoms of tooth erosion, consult your dentist as soon as possible. The American Dental Association (ADA) states that erosion can give bacteria an opportunity to do serious damage, like causing cavities or infections.
The pH scale, which ranges from 0 to 14, is a way of measuring 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.
Your body's normal pH level is just slightly above 7, but it can alter when you consume high concentrations of acidic foods or drinks. The good news is that if you eat a more alkaline food after an acidic one, you can bring the pH in your mouth to a more neutral level before damage is done. An example of this is eating a piece of cheese with or after an acidic fruit like grapes.
Acidic and Nonacidic Foods
Limit your intake of these acidic foods, or pair them with an alkaline snack:
- Lemons, limes, tangerines and oranges
- Apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, apricots and strawberries
- Fruit juices and carbonated sodas, both with sugar and diet
- Tomatoes and tomato juice
- Jams and jellies
To get on track eating and drinking foods that prevent erosion, consume more of these nonacidic foods and nonacidic beverages:
- Beans, including black, soy, wax, kidney and lima
- Corn, peas, peppers, asparagus, spinach and broccoli
- Fish, including salmon, shrimp and crab meat
- Milk, including coconut and soybean varieties
- Tea and aloe juice
- Potatoes, rice and yams
- Watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydew melons
- Ripe mangoes, bananas and papayas
Treating Enamel Damage
According to the ADA, fluoride, a mineral found in many community water supplies, toothpastes and rinses, strengthens teeth against the effects of acids and may help repair damaged enamel. In addition, your saliva may dilute acids in the mouth and facilitate remineralization of tooth enamel.
If you have dry mouth due to illness, cancer treatments or side effects of medications, you may be more prone to enamel erosion or cavities. Chewing sugarless gum is one trick that can help you produce more saliva and jump-start the remineralization process.
To promote strong teeth, brush with fluoride toothpaste daily, add more nonacidic foods to your diet and limit your consumption of acidic foods and drinks. Your dentist can assess your teeth and give you more recommendations for avoiding enamel erosion and maintaining a healthy smile.