Most people know they need to brush their teeth regularly and frequently floss to help avoid problems like tooth decay. Not so many are aware of how their dietary choices can make a real difference to dental health, and it isn’t just sugary foods that are a problem. Eating and drinking too many acidic foods and drinks can significantly damage tooth enamel, causing enamel erosion which in turn can lead to cavities. Acidic foods and drinks have a pH below seven and include citrus fruits, vinegary dressings, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, and tomatoes.
What Happens When You Have Anything Acidic?
When you eat anything acidic, the acids attack tooth enamel, removing essential minerals, including calcium and phosphorus, during a process called demineralisation. This leaves your tooth enamel softer than before and more vulnerable to damage. Your mouth remains more acidic for at least half an hour after you finish eating before pH levels begin to normalise.
At this point, some of the minerals removed remain in your saliva and are redeposited back into your tooth enamel, helping to re-harden it during a process called remineralisation. However, repeated exposure to these acids eventually erodes your tooth enamel, breaking it down so cavities can start to form. Another side-effect of eating too many acidic foods is tooth staining. When your tooth enamel is softer, it is more vulnerable to becoming stained and discoloured, especially if you eat highly coloured foods like berries.
How to Protect Your Teeth against Acid Erosion
It might not be possible to cut out acidic foods altogether or even desirable, but you can take steps to limit the time your teeth are exposed to these acids. When you have something acidic, include it as part of a main meal. At this point, your mouth will already be more acidic, and you will also be producing more saliva. Saliva is a protective fluid that helps wash away excess food particles and restore a more neutral pH more quickly.
Try to avoid having acidic foods as snacks because this increases the time your teeth are exposed to acids. After you have something very acidic, rinse your mouth with water. Another tip is to finish your meal with cheese or milk. Both contain calcium and phosphorus, which will help to re-harden your tooth enamel and neutralise harmful acids.
Finally, resist the temptation to brush your teeth immediately after having anything very acidic. This is because your tooth enamel is softer, so if you brush your teeth, it is more easily damaged and worn away. Waiting at least half an hour gives it time to re-harden, at which point it is safe to brush your teeth. When you do brush your teeth, use a soft-bristled toothbrush that will not damage your tooth enamel and good quality fluoride toothpaste. After brushing, spit but don’t rinse, so a thin layer of fluoride remains, coating your teeth and offering just a bit more protection against tooth decay.
If you are concerned about acid erosion, please talk to us during your next checkup. We can check your teeth for signs of this problem and offer more personalised advice.