You probably remember being told in elementary school that if you don’t brush your teeth, bacteria will grow on them and cause cavities with the acid they make. That’s still true, but you may be surprised to learn that that’s not the only way acid erodes our teeth. Some healthy foods can hurt your teeth. And sometimes brushing your teeth can actually make it worse!
Mouths are usually pretty neutral – not acidic or alkaline. But food and drink can be high in acids. After eating these things, saliva will eventually neutralize that acid, but in the meantime, it softens tooth enamel. In fact, if you brush your teeth right after eating high-acid foods, it can actually cause more damage to the softened enamel.
Losing enamel on your teeth causes many problems. It makes teeth more susceptible to decay, increasing your chances of cavities. Enamel loss can also cause tooth sensitivity and pain. And as the darker layer of the teeth is exposed, they lose their white gleam and look dingy.
The good news is that once you’re aware of acids and what they can do, it’s not that hard to protect your teeth from acid erosion.
- Be aware of acidic foods and when you eat them. Get to know what is high acid – things like citrus juice, pickles, wine, sour candies, soda, and energy drinks. You don’t have to cut them out of your diet; just try to eat them with meals so other foods can help neutralize the acid. Drink juice and soda through a straw, so it doesn’t make contact with your teeth.
- Don’t brush your teeth right after acidic foods. Wait 30 minutes to give saliva a chance to neutralize the acid. If you can plan ahead and brush with a good fluoride toothpaste before eating these foods, that’s a great way to protect your teeth from acid erosion.
- Neutralize. After having acidic food or drink, eat some cheese or swish with water or a fluoride rinse to fight back that acid. Chewing sugarless gum helps stimulate saliva flow. Avoid acidic foods before bed because saliva production slows down during sleep.
- Avoid extended exposure. Try not to keep acidic foods in your mouth for a long time. Sucking on a lemon slice or sour candy gives the acid a long time to work on your teeth, and causes a lot of damage over time. Sour candy has sugar too, feeding bacteria that cause decay.
- Regular dental care. The best way to keep your teeth healthy is to see a dentist regularly. Your dentist will let you know if your teeth are showing signs of enamel erosion, and help you come up with a plan to keep them strong.