The Effects of Acidic Food and Drinks on Enamel

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We all love a morning coffee or perhaps a soda on the weekends, but have you ever stopped to consider how acidic drinks like these may be affecting your teeth? What about that orange you like to have for an afternoon snack, or your favorite variety of candy?

Keep reading to learn how acidic food and drinks can affect tooth enamel, and what people can do to mitigate the damage.


What do acidic foods and beverages do to your teeth?

Let’s start by defining acidic. Acidity level measures the amount of acid in a given food or beverage based on a 14-point scale known as the pH scale. Everything you eat and drink ranges from a value of 1 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline), with anything below 7 considered acidic. To give you an idea of what this looks like in practice, lemon juice has a pH level of 2, while black coffee has a pH level of 5 and eggs have a 7.

As a general rule, the lower a food or drink registers on the pH scale, the worse it is for your teeth. But why is it bad?

Acidic food and drinks wear down enamel, the white or off-white substance that acts as a barrier protecting your teeth. This strong outer layer of protection is one of the four major tissues that make up the tooth. Over time, acidic food and beverages weaken it, leaving teeth more vulnerable to damage and erosion. In the short term, this leads to:

  • Sensitivity and pain when consuming hot and cold drinks
  • Yellowing and discoloration
  • Increased risk of cavities
  • Change in fillings

This damage can become quite serious in the long term and may even be permanent. In extreme cases of enamel decay, patients may develop abscesses or even lose teeth. 


What foods and drinks should you avoid?

If you want to ensure the long-term health of your enamel and thus your teeth, you should cut out, or at least limit, the following food and drinks:

  • Fruit juice (especially citrus)
  • Soda and other carbonated beverages (even the sugar-free kind)
  • Coffee
  • Tea (hot and cold)
  • Sports drinks
  • Alcohol (particularly wine)
  • Sour candies
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes

While some of these selections may seem harsh, let’s take a look at how we prevent damage while still consuming the above foods and beverages in moderation.


How can you protect your teeth?

The only surefire way to stop enamel decay is to avoid acidic culprits altogether, but that’s just not practical for most people. Here are a few tips for preventing damage without having to go cold turkey on your favorite food and drinks:

  • Use a straw: Straws reduce contact between the acidic drink and your teeth. 
  • Pair with water: Washing down acidic meals with a glass of water will help rinse the acid out of your mouth.
  • Don’t brush right away: It may seem counter-intuitive, but brushing your teeth immediately after an acidic drink actually does more harm than good. Saliva is a natural protector of enamel, and it may need about an hour to do its job before brushing. 
  • Eat acidic food with meals: Eating an acidic food with a full meal, rather than as a snack, helps to neutralize the acid and reduce contact with your teeth.
  • Practice dental hygiene: Regular flossing, brushing, and dental checkups are always a great way to promote oral health. 

In summary, acidic foods and beverages can be detrimental to your oral health by compromising tooth enamel. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to mitigate the effects of acids in what we consume, especially through maintaining good hygiene and receiving regular preventive care at the dentist’s office.