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Effects of Acid on Your Teeth

"Bad teeth run in my family." We hear this often in dentistry. Frequently, what patients really mean is that they have the same bad habits as other family members. We should start at the beginning first. Bacteria both good and bad live in everyone's mouth. When sugar is in the mouth, these bacteria convert them into acid. As this acid sits on our teeth, it decalcifies them leading to decay. Every time you take in sugar your teeth are under "acid attack" for about 20 minutes afterward. How can we alter this process? Remove any one of these elements from the equation, and decay is not possible. Since most of us would prefer to have teeth, we need to eliminate one of the other factors. We can either cut down the amount and frequency intake, reduce bacteria, or both.

Many of our patients don't know why they seem to have at least one or more cavities at every visit. Often these patients tell us that they don't really drink that much soda or eat sweets. This usually occurs for one of several reasons. 1) They aren't brushing enough or correctly. 2) They don't' realize the sugar and acid content of their food and beverages. 3) It isn't the quantity of sugar intake, but rather the duration of sugar exposure.

Let's look at each of these separately. Correct brushing isn't a given; it must be taught. When brushing, try to visualize your tooth as having distinct sides (cheek-side, tongue-side, front, back, and biting surface) In order to prevent decay, all of these sides must be cleaned twice a day. To properly remove plaque from your teeth, the brush side needs to be held at 45-degree angle to the gum line on all the cheek-side and back tongue-side surfaces. To clean in between your teeth, you must use floss. Many people neglect or flat out ignore this part of their teeth. Plaque can harden over time and become tartar. This tartar acts to constantly inflame your gums, and over time can lead to bone loss, periodontal disease, and eventual tooth loss.

Sugar and Acid

The second aspect is sugar and content of food and beverages.

Examples of sugar and acid level in popular drinks.
  Acid (low = bad) Sugar (tsp. per 12 oz. serving)
Pure water 7.0 (neutral) 0
Tea (unsweet) 7.2 0
Milk (2%) 6.8 3.5
Brewed Coffee 5.5 0
Barq's Root Beer 4.0 11
Vegetable juice 3.9  
Minute Maid Orange Juice 3.8 9
Propel Fitness Water 3.4 1
Sprite 3.4 9
Diet Dr. Pepper 3.4 0
Apple Juice 3.4 5
Red Bull 3.3 10
Diet Coke 3.3 0
Mountain Dew 3.3 12
Nestea 3.0 5
Diet Pepsi 3.0 0
Kool-Aid Jammers 3.0 5
Grape Fruit Juice 3.0 7
Gatorade 2.9 5
Dr. Pepper 2.9 10
Vault Energy 2.9 12
Hawaiian Fruit Punch 2.8 10
Welch's White Grape 2.8 8
Powerade 2.7 15
Capri Sun 2.6 5
Minute Maid Lemonade 2.6 10
Pepsi 2.5 10
Coca-Cola 2.4 11
Sunny Delight 2.4 10
Cranberry Juice 2.3 6
Stomach Acid 2.0  
Battery Acid 1.0  


As you can see, even diet beverages have extremely high acid content. This acts to dissolve tooth structure increasing the incidence of decay. Add sugar to these low PH's and your asking for trouble. So, what can you drink if you are looking for a good alternative? Water has always been the most natural choice for people who want to avoid any risk to their teeth. It is also recommended that you drink about 2 liters of water per day. There are also sugar-free drink mixes available, but beware of citrus-flavored varieties. If one of the first ingredients is citric acid, it probably has a high acid content. As with anything, moderation is the key. We personally drink soft drinks, but limit our intake.

The final part of the equation is to limit the duration of exposure. It is better (from a dental standpoint) to drink a gallon of soda in a few minutes that it is to sip a 12 oz. can over 2-3 hours. That is because with every sip you are bathing your teeth in usage and acid, instigating an acid attack that will continue for 20 minutes after the last sip. If you are slowly sipping on a soda, the process happens over hours. Many of our patients that struggle with decay from sodas tell us that they drink it while reading, watching TV, at work, or while playing video games. People tend to lose track of time during these activities and soda intake almost becomes unconscious. If you are going to drink soda, try to make it a treat or drink it with meals. this will limit the duration of exposure and help decrease decay.

Decay can happen rapidly at any age when changes in your diet or habits occur. That is why it is important to visit your dentist every 6 months to make sure that no decay is present. In addition, early treatment is generally much more affordable than treatment at a more advanced stage. Along with proper diet, brushing and flossing habits, seeing your dentist will help you create a smile to last a lifetime.

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