For the longest while, sugar has had a bad reputation, with it receiving a significant portion of the blame for a lot of the dental problems children and adults encounter. Make no mistake about it – sugary foods lead to tooth decay. This has been proven time and again, with virtually every scientific study proving as much. That said, less in the spotlight are foods we typically consider to be healthy, yet for our teeth, they pose great danger, with some leading to considerable enamel damage over prolonged periods of consumption.
We refer to these foods as acidic foods. Most of them contain vital nutrients that our bodies require to perform everyday functions, but apart from sugar, they are our teeth’s greatest nemesis. So, you may be wondering – what ARE these foods and what’s all the fuss, really?
What’s the big deal? What will these acidic foods do?
We’re glad you asked! Acidic foods lead to a condition colloquially referred to as ‘soft teeth’. This term refers to the results of extensive weakening of the tooth’s enamel caused by the acidic foods. It literally causes dental enamel to ‘soften’ and erode (acid erosion).
What happens next?
Did you know that acid erosion is extremely common with 9 out of 10 dentists reporting that they see signs of it in their patients? So you may now be wondering why acid erosion is so bad, aside from the fact that it can eat away at your teeth, of course.
When enamel is softened, it becomes prone to erosion. This is well understood. However, daily habits which we normally deem as healthy only stand to exacerbate the issue. Brushing is one example. Once the enamel is softened, brushing will only accelerate the erosion process, further wearing away at the enamel, thinning it.
Over time, the effects of acid erosion become more visible. The teeth may become discoloured and may have a rough texture on the surface. Extreme cases will result in the teeth having a totally different shape. Imagine an ice cube under flowing water. It changes shape and texture. That’s sort of how acid erosion attacks your teeth – only (much) slower.
Another sign of acid erosion is tooth sensitivity. Once that layer of enamel gets thinner, the nerve is closer to the surface of the tooth. This means when the tooth exposed to hot or cold temperatures, you feel it more intensely.
Late stage acid erosion will result in discoloration, a change in the shape of the tooth and transparent edges. If left untreated, teeth become shorter and the pulp of the tooth is exposed. Infections can occur, resulting in serious dental abscesses and/or tooth decay. At this point, teeth may begin to fall off and opportune complications like gum disease arise.
So, what foods are considered acidic?
Acidity is measured by the pH scale. The lower a food’s pH, the higher acidity it has. These are the foods that can cause enamel softening when they come into contact with your teeth.
A lot of these foods are fruits which contain citric acid. Here are a few examples;
5. Apple sauce
8. Orange juice
11. Soda – fizzy drinks
12. Apple cider
The FDA has a complete list of foods and their acidity levels here.
It’s not necessary to totally eliminate acidic foods from your diet. After all, many of them contain essential nutrients while some are used in everyday cooking and are quite difficult to go without. You can do a number of things to ensure that the likelihood of your teeth being eroded is low.
Firstly, do not brush your teeth immediately after eating acidic foods. Wait at least an hour after eating to brush as the enamel may have been softened.
Avoid swirling drinks in your mouth. A lot of wine tasters will be disappointed by this one, but swirling drinks around your mouth distributes the acid and gets it in contact with all your teeth. A neat way to avoid this is drinking through a straw.
Using a specialised toothpaste proven to help protect your enamel is also recommended. These toothpastes contain active ingredients that harden the tooth’s enamel with regular use.
Acidic foods are now so commonplace in our diets that it’s increasingly necessary to exercise extra care with our dental care. Ignoring the effects of a highly acidic diet can lead to numerous dental complications which will affect the appearance, health and integrity of your teeth. Neither of these consequences are ideal. Aside from taking extra care with your dental hygiene to circumvent the negative effects of acid erosion, you can look to introduce more neutral to alkaline foods into your diet in order to lessen the likelihood of erosion developing. Check out a list of alkaline foods here.