Tags Posts tagged with "Acid"

Acid

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Lemon Citrus Can Cause Tooth Acid Erosion
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I got the following email from an Oral Answers reader asking about the difference between acid erosion and tooth decay.  He writes:

“What is the difference between acid erosion and tooth decay?  How to I ensure that I minimise both of these.  Also which is the best toothpaste to use to prevent this, I have heard of duraphat (Note from Tom: Duraphat is a fluoride product marketed as Duraflor in the United States) which i know helps with decay and pronamel which helps with erosion but I do not know if both help with both.”

Preventing Tooth Decay and Acid Erosion

The Difference Between Tooth Decay and Acid Erosion

Both tooth decay and acid erosion involve your tooth structure getting dissolved. The main difference between tooth decay and acid erosion is the source of the acid.

In acid erosion, your teeth are dissolved by acidic foods, drinks, or environmental sources of acid that come into contact with your teeth.

To learn how to spot acids that eat away your teeth, read How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks.

Tooth decay, however is caused by millions of tiny bacteria that live on your teeth that excrete acid, which eats away at your teeth.

To learn more about these bacteria, read What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque.

Preventing Tooth Decay and Acid Erosion

The second part of this reader’s question involved preventing tooth decay and acid erosion.  The best way to prevent tooth decay is by getting rid of the bacteria on your teeth regularly through brushing and flossing.  You might also want to learn about 12 weapons of plaque destruction and these 25 things that increase your risk of getting tooth decay.

 Preventing acid erosion is as simple as not eating or drinking too much acid.  You might be surprised to learn that many of the drinks we enjoy made this list of 9 acidic drinks that can dissolve your teeth.

As far as strengthening your teeth, most any toothpaste contains fluoride, which protects your teeth.  It probably doesn’t matter which type of toothpaste you’re using as long as it contains fluoride and you’re brushing regularly.

Conclusion

Tooth decay is caused by acid from bacteria that live on your teeth.  Acid erosion is caused by acids that you eat, drink, or otherwise expose to your teeth.

You can prevent tooth decay and acid erosion by brushing and flossing regularly and minimizing your intake of acidic foods and drinks.

Do you have any questions about tooth decay and acid erosion?  I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

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Acid Dissolves Teeth
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In 1942, the average American drank the equivalent of 60 12-ounce cans of soda per year.  In 2004, that number increased nearly 10-fold to 576 12-ounce cans of soda per year. That averages out to 1.6 12-ounce cans every day for each man, woman, and child in the United States. (Source) Although soda pop is the most well-known substance that contains  teeth-dissolving acid, different types of acids are found in many different foods. However, there’s more to an acidic beverage or food than just its pH.  How much damage the acid you eat and drink does to your teeth depends on four different factors.

Four Factors That Determine If Acids Will Dissolve Your Teeth

1 – How Much Contact the Acid Has With Your Teeth

Acidic Drinks Can Dissolve TeethIf you like to savor your acidic vinaigrette salad dressing or enjoy swishing your soda around in your mouth before swallowing, the acid will do more damage to your teeth because it stays in contact with your teeth a lot longer.

Want to enjoy your soda pop while minimizing damage to your teeth? Read How to Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Happy.

2 – The pH of the Acid

The pH of a substance indicates how acidic it is.  The lower the pH, the more acidic.  The higher the pH, the less acidic.  If you’re wondering about the pH of many popular drinks, read the article Nine Drinks that Can Dissolve Your Teeth.

If you’re wondering the exact pH when teeth start to dissolve, check out the article What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

3 – The Buffering Capacity of the Acid

The buffering capacity of the acid is best explained by the following example:  If you drink some sparkling water, your saliva can quickly neutralize the acid and bring your mouth back up to a pH that won’t dissolve teeth.  However, if you drink oragne juice, it will take much longer for your saliva to neutralize the acid.  Orange juice has a high buffering capacity while sparkling water has a low buffering capacity. The fact that saliva can neutralize acids in your mouth is just one of the many reasons why saliva is important. Ole Fejerskov https://ampills.com explains this point in the textbook Dental Caries, “Low pH products such as Coca Cola, and tonic water at pH 2.5 are more aggressive than orange juice at pH 4.  However, the high content of fruit acids in orange juice gives it its ability to keep pH low, allowing it more time for dissolution.” This means that although orange juice isn’t as acidic as soda pop, the high buffering capacity of the fruit acids allows it to keep the pH in your mouth low for a longer period of time which allows it to dissolve more of your teeth.

4 – Calcium, Phosphate, and Fluoride Ion Content

In the textbook mentioned above, it mentioned that orange juice with added calcium and phosphate did much less damage to teeth than regular orange juice.  Calcium, phosphate, and fluoride ions are all friends to our teeth.  The more of these ions that are in our mouth, the stronger our teeth will be.

Conclusion – Don’t Let Acid Dissolve Your Teeth!

Now that you know the factors that affect whether or not an acid will dissolve your teeth, it’s time to put it into practice and keep your teeth strong and healthy. This article gives some good advice on what you can do.  It states:

Patient education on the causes and prevention of dental erosion are essential to prevent progression [of dental erosion]. In addition to reducing or eliminating exposure to acidic soft drinks and juices, modified acid beverages with reduced potential to cause erosion can be recommended to patients. Frequent application of high concentration topical fluoride may be of some benefit in preventing further demineralisation and increase the abrasion resistance of erosion lesions.

Some other things you can do to prevent acid from dissolving your teeth are:

  • Rinsing your mouth out after eating or drinking acid-containing foods
  • Chewing gum after consuming acids
  • Not brushing your teeth immediately after consuming acids – give your saliva some time to remineralize your teeth.

Do you have any questions, comments or concerns about the effects of acid on your teeth?  I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

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Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Healthy
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Some dentists might say that in an ideal world, nobody would drink soda pop. In my view, in an ideal world, everyone would drink soda pop — it just wouldn’t hurt your teeth!

Of course, we don’t live in that ideal world and it’s important to know that soda pop does pose a serious threat to your teeth (read this article for more information.)

With that said, if you are going to drink soda pop, here’s four tips you can use to minimize the damage that it does to your teeth.

4 Tips You Can Use to Drink Soda Pop and Keep Your Teeth Happy

Drink Pop and Keep Your Teeth Healthy1 – Drink soda pop through a straw.  By drinking the soda pop through a straw, you will minimize the soda pop’s contact with your teeth and quickly whisk it away down your throat.

2 – Drink soda pop during meals.  If you drink the soda pop while you eat a meal, you will be able to wash away the sugar from the soda more quickly.  For example, if you drink some pop and then eat some salad, you will get rid of a lot of the sugar in your mouth when you swallow the salad.  The goal is to not let the sugar hang out in your mouth for too long.

3 – Don’t sip the soda pop slowly, drink it all at once.  Every time you eat or drink sugar, the bacteria in your mouth produce acid waste that dissolves your teeth.  It takes a good 15 to 30 minutes for your saliva to neutralize the acid and start repairing your teeth.

If you sip on soda pop all day, you might never give your saliva a chance to repair your teeth and could eventually start a cavity.

For more information and to view a graph of this process, read What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink.

4 – Rinse out with water rather than brushing after you drink soda pop. After you drink soda, you can get rid of a lot of the sugar in your mouth simply by rinsing out with water.  Some oral health experts have warned against brushing after drinking acidic drinks because the abrasive action of brushing can damage the tooth enamel before the saliva has a chance to repair it.Drinking Cola Little Girl

Conclusion

Like all foods that aren’t the greatest for us, soda pop shouldn’t be consumed excessively.

The reason soda pop is so bad for your teeth is because it is acidic and sugary.  By quickly drinking your soda pop and minimizing the amount of time that the sugar spends with your teeth, you’ll be doing your teeth a big favor.

Do you have any questions, comments, or any other suggestions to add about soda pop and oral health?  Please leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading!

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Ways Your Teeth Get Worn Down
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When teeth first come into the mouth, they are in pristine condition and come complete with mamelons, remnants of the tooth’s development.  Over time, our teeth get worn down.  Some people wear their teeth down more than others.

There are four main ways that we wear down our teeth: Abrasion, Attrition, Erosion, and Abfraction.  If you’re not sure what those words mean, keep reading and I’ll explain!  The man in the picture below is wearing down his teeth in one of those four ways.

Wearing Away Teeth: Abrasion, Erosion, and Abfraction

Abrasion

Abrasion happens when objects come into contact with our teeth that mechanically wear them away.  A common way people wear away teeth is by using their teeth as tools, like chewing through tags on clothes or using your teeth to open packages.  Some other examples of abrasion are:

  • When you brush your teeth, the grit in the toothpaste can slowly wear away tooth structure.  Under normal circumstances, this won’t wear away enough tooth structure to be noticeable, but some people who brush their teeth a LOT will wear away a noticeable amount of tooth structure.  This is one of the reasons that our teeth get more yellow as we get older, we are slowly wearing away the enamel and seeing the yellow dentin underneath.
  • Chewing on pencils or any other foreign object.
  • Chewing on food.
  • Chewing tobacco.

Attrition

Attrition is defined as wearing away tooth structure from tooth-to-tooth contact.  Some attrition is normal, it’s how mamelons get worn away.  Attrition gets to be a problem if you are routinely clenching and grinding your teeth.  Many people grind their teeth at night, often without being aware.  We make night guards at our dental school which people can wear to prevent them from grinding their teeth at night.  If you grind your teeth, talk to your dentist about getting a night guard.

In Peter Dawson’s book Functional Occlusion he states, “When wear penetrates enamel into softer dentin, wear increases seven times faster.”  That means that it’s best to get your grinding problem taken care of as soon as possible, because it will only get worse once you grind through the enamel.

Erosion

Erosion occurs when you eat or drink acidic beverages.  The reason we get cavities is because plaque living on our teeth produce acid that over time can dissolve our teeth.

Any time acid comes into contact with our teeth, it can dissolve the crystals that make up our teeth.  Here are some ways that acid comes into contact with our teeth:

  • Eating or drinking acid-containing foods and beverages.  If you’re interested in some related reading, here’s 9 drinks that can dissolve your teeth, and a guide to identifying acids in foods.
  • When we throw up, either from the flu or from an eating disorder such as bulimia, the acidic contents of the stomach wash over our teeth and slowly dissolve them.
  • If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (commonly known as GERD), your mouth will become acidic due to the acids from the stomach making their way back into your mouth.
  • Putting acidic pills or medications in your mouth.  Some people suck on vitamin C tablets.  Others try to put aspirin on a toothache to make it feel better.  Both of these pills are acidic and can cause tooth erosion.

Abfraction

Abfraction is wear at the gumline that has a controversial origin.  Some dental experts say that it comes from stress on the tooth when biting and others say that it comes from abrasion due to the grit found in toothpaste.  In Dawson’s book mentioned above he says, “What we have been calling abfraction lesions are really the result of toothpaste abuse.”

Abfraction lesions are wedge-shaped and usually appear on the cheek/lip side of the teeth.  The book Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology by Neville describes abfraction lesions as “defects that are deep, narrow, and v-shaped…often affect[ing] a single tooth with adjacent unaffected teeth.  In addition, occasional lesions are subgingival, a site typically protected from abrasion and erosion.”

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways that we wear away our teeth.  Many of the causes of excessive wear — consuming acidic foods and drinks, using our teeth inappropriately, and using abrasive toothpastes — are preventable.  Even attrition, which results from grinding your teeth, is easily treated by your dentist.   Hopefully, you can take steps to reduce the wear on your teeth now that you are aware of the causes.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the man in the photo above is wearing away his teeth… it’s by abrasion!

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What Happens In Your Mouth Every Time You Eat or Drink
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Did you know that you are the life of the party?  Every time you eat fermentable carbohydrates, millions of bacteria in your mouth shout for joy as they snack on the food that you are eating.

Young Woman Eating PizzaThere’s just one small problem: after they’re done eating, they need to use the restroom.  Since there’s no toilet in your mouth, they just go on your teeth.  All of this acidic waste can start to dissolve your teeth.  Luckily, our saliva protects our teeth by gradually clearing out the acid and laying down new calcium to repair the patches of teeth that got dissolved.

The Stephan Curve: A Graphical View of What Happens In Your Mouth

It can be hard to visualize what exactly happens in your mouth every time you eat or drink.  To make it easier to visualize, the Stephan Curve was invented.

Below, you’ll find a Stephan Curve that shows what would happen in someone’s mouth who eats three meals a day and then a snack between lunch and dinner, and some cookies after dinner.

Stephan Curve

Before I talk about what this Stephen Curve is showing, here are some quick facts that will help you understand the above graph:

  • pH is a measure of how acidic something is.  The more acidic something is, the lower the pH, and the more harmful it is to our teeth.
  • The pH of our spit is usually right around 7.1.  This is slightly basic (as opposed to acidic.)  At this pH our teeth are safe, happy, and healthy.
  • When we eat carbohydrates or sugars, the plaque on our teeth munch on them as well and produce an acidic by-product.  This acid lowers the pH in our mouth.
  • If the pH drops below 5.5, our teeth start dissolving.

What Happened In the Above Stephen Curve

The Stephen Curve above shows a 24 hour period for someone who ate or drank five times:

  • 7 AM – Breakfast
  • 12 PM – Lunch
  • 2 PM – Soda Pop – Luckily it was just root beer.  Had it been a much more acidic soda, the line on the graph could have gone down to a pH below 3.
  • 6 PM – Dinner
  • 9 PM – Oreo cookies – This person started snacking on cookies at 9 PM.  Finally, at 9:30 PM, they stopped eating the cookies and gave their saliva a chance to rinse away all of the sugar and neutralize the acid in their mouth.

In total, this person allowed his teeth to dissolve for two hours during the day.  That still gave him 22 hours where his saliva could repair the damage that was done.  There thousands of things that could have happened to affect this Stephan curve.  What if, instead of eating ten Oreos from 9-9:30 had eaten one Oreo every hour from noon until 10 PM.  He would have created ten different episodes where his teeth were dissolving.  If he kept that up, he’d soon be visiting the dentist to take care of some cavities!

Your Stephan Curve Is Different

Your Stephan curve probably looks similar to the one above, but it is probably slightly different.  The way your Stephan curve looks depends on many factors such as:

1 – How often you eat during the day.  Each time you eat fermentable carbohydrates, your pH can drop into the area where teeth start dissolving.  If you eat enough times during the day, you’ll start to permanently destroy part of your tooth.  This is called a cavity.

2 – Type of foods you eat.  If you snack on foods that are healthy for your teeth, you are much less likely to dissolve your teeth by creating an acidic environment in your mouth.  For example, if you were to eat some cheese, the probably wouldn’t drop much below 7, giving your teeth something to smile about!  If you drink Coca-Cola, which is a very acidic drink, you will immediately drop the pH in your mouth and it will stay down there due to the sugar in Coke.

3 – Consistency of food.  If you drink some fruit punch, your saliva can quickly rinse the sugar away and return the pH of your mouth to normal.  However, if you eat Oreo cookies, it will take longer because the Oreos can get stuck up in the grooves on the chewing surface of your teeth.  As long as the Oreo stays stuck in your teeth, it will be feeding the bacteria and they’ll create acid that will dissolve your teeth.

4 – Your oral hygiene.  If you never brush, the bacteria can create a thick layer of plaque on your teeth.  Since it’s hard for your saliva to neutralize acid through a thick layer of plaque, you’ll spend a lot more time below a pH of 5.5 if you don’t brush your teeth everyday to remove the plaque.

5 – How much saliva you have.  If you don’t have much saliva, the sugar will stick around in your mouth longer because it won’t get rinsed away.  People with dry mouth get more cavities for this one reason.  If you find that your mouth is dry all of the time, here’s some things that may be causing your dry mouth.

Conclusion

Every time you eat something with fermentable carbohydrates, you feed the bacteria in your mouth.  This causes them to produce acid which dissolves your teeth.  Eventually, your body can restore order to your mouth by rinsing away the acid with saliva.  After the acid is rinsed away, your saliva repairs your teeth.  However, if you keep dropping the pH below 5.5, your saliva might not have enough time to repair your teeth and you could get a cavity.  The Stephan Curve is simply a graph that illustrates the pH in your mouth.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below in the comments.  Also, if you know anything about the history of the Stephan Curve or who Stephan is, let me know.  I have tried to learn about the history of the Stephan curve, but I remain clueless.  Thanks for reading!

Teeth Getting Hurt This Cold and Flu Season
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Three weeks ago I got a cold. I was just getting over it when we went up to Maine, and right when we got back I got sick again.  I’m finally getting better, but my oral hygiene has been less than stellar over the past few weeks!

Fever Can Affect Oral HealthNow that the days are getting colder and shorter here in the northern hemisphere, it’s a good time to talk about how the common cold can affect your oral health.

I’ve actually come up with a variety of ways that the cold and flu can mess up your oral health.  Here they are.

6 Ways the Common Cold & Flu Can Hurt Your Teeth

1 – We tend to drink acidic beverages when we’re sick. Water doesn’t sound very good when you’re sick.  Many people drink lots of orange juice and soda pop (such as ginger ale) when they’re sick.

When I was little, my mom would always make me nice hot cups of what we called honey lemon water.  It’s a slight variation on this recipe of  honey lemon tea.  I still drink it when I’m sick!

You can lessen the effect of acidic drinks on your teeth by drinking them quickly and then either drinking or rinsing your mouth out with water when you’re done.

Read more about which drinks are acidic and can dissolve your teeth here.

2 – When you’re sick, you really don’t feel like brushing or flossing. When you’re sick, the first thing on your mind is getting better, not brushing and flossing.  However, by taking a couple of minutes each day to take care of your teeth, you can prevent the build-up of tartar, which is a type of hard mineralized plaque that forms on your teeth if you don’t remove plaque daily.

3 – Inflammation of the sinuses can make your teeth and gums hurt.  If you’ve got a cold and you’re stuffed up, your sinuses might not feel very good!  The maxillary sinus is located right above your upper back teeth and can make them hurt.

There have also been reports of people’s gums hurting when they’re sick.  This probably occurs because many people breathe through their mouths when they’re sick because they have a stuffy nose.  This dries out the gums and irritates them.  Another possible explanation is that your immune system is so busy fighting your cold that it’s harder for it to fight the bacteria in your mouth, thus causing your gums to get irritated.

4 – When you’re sick, your mouth gets dry.  As I mentioned above, your mouth gets dry because you breathe through it more than usual when your nose is stuffy.  Coughing can also dry out the mouth.  A dry mouth allows sugar to hang around in your mouth and contributes to tooth decay.

Try to stay hydrated when you are sick as much as possible!  When possible, reach for plain water instead of juices or soda pop.

To see why a dry mouth is bad for your teeth, read about how wonderful spit is!

Cough Syrup Can Damage Your Teeth5 – Cold medicine isn’t very friendly to your teeth.  Cough syrups such as Dayquil syrup can stick to your teeth and cause cavities.  Here’s an article that talks about how you can reduce the damage that cough syrup does to your teeth.

Cherry Alka Seltzer Cold MedicineMany cold medicines, such as Alka-Seltzer, are acidic.  Acidic drinks can dissolve the calcium that makes up the enamel of your teeth.

Cough drops are another culprit, but they don’t have to be.  Just eat sugar free cough drops and you’ll be fine.  Both Hall’s and Ricola make great tasting sugar-free cough drops that are much better for your teeth than regular cough drops, which contain a significant amount of sugar.

Rather than taking cough syrup, try substituting something in pill form.  For example, DayQuil is available in a gelcap form that doesn’t contain all of the sugar that the syrup does.  If you must have Alka-Seltzer, you might want to rinse out your mouth or drink water afterward to get the acid off of your teeth.

6 – Vomit is acidic and dissolves your teeth.  Hopefully you don’t have to toss your cookies this cold and flu season.  The stomach is the most acidic place in your body and when it’s contents come back up, they will dissolve your teeth.

After vomiting, the best thing to do for your teeth is to rinse out with water.  You might be tempted to brush your teeth with toothpaste to get the acidic taste out of your mouth, but brushing can damage the enamel because it’s already been weakened by the exposure to your stomach acid.

Conclusion

Having a cold can hurt your teeth.  Remember to continue your regular oral hygiene routine even when you don’t feel well.

Try to avoid cold and flu medicine that are syrups or contain lots of sugar.  Pills and sugar-free cough drops are excellent alternatives.

If you do happen to throw up, remember to rinse your mouth afterward with water to wash away the acid.

If you have any other suggestions or any questions, feel free to add them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

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How Saliva Protects Teeth
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A couple of years ago, my wife and I were on a walk near our community’s park. A baseball game was taking place on the baseball field and we stopped to watch. I noticed that some of the players were constantly spitting into the dirt near the dugout.

It tooThe Importance of Saliva - Overlooked by Little League Playersk almost all of the self-control that I had to stop myself from yelling, “What’s wrong with you!? Don’t you know what great things that spit could do for your teeth? Why would you waste it like that?”

Okay, I might not have actually thought that, but the fact remains that saliva doesplay many important roles when it comes to keeping your teeth in optimal condition.

Luckily, the average person produces about one liter of saliva each day, so there’s still enough to spit out during a baseball game.

Six Ways Saliva Protects Your Teeth

1 -Saliva neutralizes acids that can erode your teeth. Plaque produces acid that causes cavities.  Acids can also be found in many of the foods we eat and lots of different beverages that we drink.  Another way that we can get acid in our mouth is through acid-reflux from the stomach or by vomiting.  Luckily, saliva has molecules called buffers that can neutralize the acid, reducing its effect on our teeth.

2 – Saliva inhibits demineralization of the tooth surface and promotes remineralization. That means that when acids try to dissolve the outer layer of your teeth (the enamel), your saliva is right there, super-saturated with extra calcium and phosphate to prevent the acid from demineralizing your teeth.  When the acid is so strong that it does demineralize the tooth, your saliva will neutralize the acid as soon as possible, and then replace the lost tooth with calcium and phosphate.

Saliva can even contain fluoride when people drink fluoridated water or use a fluoride mouthrinse and/or fluoride toothpaste.  This extra fluoride in the saliva can help remineralize teeth with the fluoride ions and make them more resistant to future attacks from plaque.

For more information on how fluoride can protect the teeth, read the article The Three Ways that Fluoride Protects Your Teeth.

3 – Saliva cleanses the mouth. After you eat a satisfying meal, your saliva goes to work to rinse away any extra food that may be stuck on your teeth.  When the food sticks to your teeth, it can feed the bacteria that live on your teeth, helping them to hurt your teeth.  By washing away the food, your saliva is getting rid of the food source for the bacteria, ensuring that your teeth remain in good condition for a long, long time.  Saliva can even wash away actual bacteria, preventing them from grabbing onto your teeth and residing there until the time when a toothbrush scrapes it away.

Spit Can Protect Your Teeth

4 – Saliva can kill bacteria. Saliva has many different antibacterial agents in it that can destroy bacteria.  This is helpful not only for your teeth, but for your whole body.  Specific components in saliva have been shown to slow the growth of a cavity-causing strain of bacteria known as streptococcus mutans.  Here’s one study that demonstrated saliva’s antibacterial effect that was published in the Journal of Dental Research.

5 – Saliva strengthens newly-erupted teeth. When teeth first come into the mouth, their enamel isn’t fully developed.  Saliva fills in the weak parts of the new tooth with calcium, phosphate, and fluoride to make these new teeth strong and ready for battle against your teeth’s worst enemies.

6 – Saliva can form a protective coating on teeth. Proteins in the saliva bind to the tooth surface.  The book Essentials of Dental Caries by Kidd, “Salivary proteins could increase the thickness of the acquired pellicle and so help to retard the movement of calcium and phosphate ions out of enamel.”

By keeping calcium and phosphate in the tooth, the salivary pellicle could aid in preventing cavities.  Ironically, the salivary pellicle is a sticky coating that helps cavity-causing bacteria adhere to the tooth surface.  In a way, it can be both a good and bad thing.

Further Reading & Conclusion

There are a couple of good reports about saliva, such as  Saliva — The Defender of the Oral Cavity by Amerongen and another study by Amerongen about salivary proteins.  You’ll probably need a subscription from a major university to get to them, but I thought I would link to them anyway for those of you who are able to access them.

Do you have any questions or comments about how saliva protects your teeth?  Leave them below in the comments section!

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Alkaline Water and Teeth
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Have you heard of alkaline water?  If not, you might soon hear about it from a multi-level-marketer near you. Earlier this week, I talked with an alkaline water marketer for five or ten minutes about it.  He talked about all of the benefits of alkaline water and even called it “nature’s water” or something similar to that.

Alkaline WaterI wasn’t familiar with alkaline water, so I decided to read up on it. As I browsed several websites, I noticed a trend.  Nearly all of the supporters of alkaline water are selling something, and those who oppose it seem to agree that its supporters are only supporting it to make money.

As I read over some of the claims, some of them were outrageous, and others were completely false.  If I didn’t have a strong background in the life sciences, I might have been fooled. One claim in particular caught my eye.  The author of a website claims that alkaline water can improve your oral health.  Here’s a couple of ways that alkaline water might improve your oral health, and my thoughts about them.

Can Alkaline Water Help Re-mineralize Your Teeth?

If you’ve read my article about the nine types of drinks that can dissolve your teeth, you probably know that acids are harmful to your teeth.  Alkaline water is basic (the opposite of an acid), so it might make sense that alkaline water would help your teeth.  After all, if acidic drinks dissolve your teeth, wouldn’t it make sense that alkaline drinks would re-build your teeth?  Actually, no. When acidic drinks dissolve your teeth, they take away the minerals that make up the enamel.  Thankfully, your body has a built-in mechanism to replace these minerals via your saliva.  Alkaline water can’t re-mineralize your teeth by replacing tooth structure.

Can Alkaline Water Neutralize Acids That Break Down Teeth?

Whenever you eat anything containing sugar or starch, it can be eaten by the bacteria in your mouth.  These bacteria then excrete acid right onto your teeth.  This acid can slowly eat away at your teeth.  If you don’t remove the bacteria daily through brushing and flossing, then the acid that they excrete will eventually cause a cavity in your tooth.  For more about how plaque destroys your teeth, read What Every Human Needs To Know About Plaque. In theory, alkaline water could neutralize the acid that the plaque produce and inhibit a cavity from forming.  However, you would have to swish it around in your mouth a lot to ensure that it was able to contact the acid under the sticky layer of plaque.  Most people when drinking alkaline water probably don’t bother to swish it around in their mouths, they simply swallow it down to their acidic stomachs. Although alkaline water could be used to neutralize acid, it is probably more simple to deprive the acid-producing bacteria of their food source by rinsing your mouth out with water to get rid of the sugar or eating some fresh vegetables to clean your teeth. If you really want to neutralize the acid, try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into some warm water and swishing it around in your mouth.  This will produce some “alkaline water” at a fraction of the cost.

Conclusion

Alkaline water can’t re-build your teeth’s enamel or heal a cavity.  It could theoretically neutralize the acid in your mouth after eating something sugary, but it’s probably not terribly effective.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any scientific peer-reviewed articles on this specific subject. Finally, a word to the wise: It’s probably best to get your health information from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something.  If someone claims that their product can solve hundreds of health problems, it’s probably too good to be true.  If you want to see if a claim is backed up by real science, you can try performing a search of scientific papers at PubMed or Google Scholar free of charge. Do you have any questions or comments on alkaline water and oral health?  If so, leave them below in the comments section!

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Sparkling Water Good for Your Teeth
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Lately, my wife and I have been trying to kick our habit of carbonated beverages with sugar and artificial sweeteners.  To fill the void, we’ve started sampling various types of seltzer water, club soda, sparkling water, and carbonated mineral water.  Our favorite, although a bit expensive for our tight dental student budget is Perrier Lemon carbonated mineral water.

Perrier Lemon Sparkling Mineral WaterSince I’ve recently written a lot about how the acids that we put in our mouths can erode the enamel on our teeth, I decided to do some research and find out if sparkling water can erode teeth.  Luckily somebody else has already done the research!

Although sparkling water contains nothing more than carbonated water (perhaps with a few minerals) and natural flavors, I didn’t expect it to be as acidic as soda pop, which also can contain phosphoric acid.  Unfortunately, sparkling water is still very acidic due to the carbonation which can combine with the water to form carbonic acid.

Yes, Sparkling Water Can Harm Your Teeth

Pellegrino Sparkling Water
Sparkling Water Can Damage Your Teeth

A group of researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom wanted to find out if sparkling water can cause enamel erosion.

First, they measured the pH of the sparkling water and found that it has a pH of right around 3.  To compare this with other drinks, you can view this article about the different drinks that erode our teeth.

They took some extracted teeth and placed them in glasses filled with different types of flavored carbonated waters.

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How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks
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Food companies are able to sneak acids into lots of the foods we eat.  On Wednesday, I wrote about the three dangers of eating acidic, sticky candy such as Sour Patch Kids.

Danger AcidI listed a small number of acidic candy that it would be wise to consume in limited amounts.  The major problem with that list is that it’s not complete.  If I were to list every single acidic food, it just might break the internet.

With that in mind, I decided to write a post about how you can figure out how much acid is found in the various foods you eat.  As you read this, keep in mind that you don’t need to avoid all acidic foods, but it is important to know that when you consume acidic foods in large quantities, you can dissolve the enamel on your teeth.

How to Identify Acidic Foods and Drinks

There’s no place on the standard Nutrition Facts labeling to specify how acidic a food is.  Luckily, all packaged food sold in the United States is required to list the ingredients that they contain.

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Sour Patch Kids Bad for Teeth
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One of my favorite things to eat as a kid was Sour Patch Kids. I remember the first time my mom gave me some; it was love at first taste. I would save up my money and buy them in bulk at the store.

Sour Candy -- Bad News for Your TeethThat was part of the blissful innocence of childhood. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have spent my money creating cavities. Maybe I would’ve bought a new toothbrush, or some floss. Okay, maybe not; but candy might not have been so appealing if I’d known what I was doing to my teeth!

You probably know that candy is bad for your teeth, but when it is not only sugary but also sticky and sour, you get one potent candy product. Candy with all three qualities – sticky, sour, and sugary – can literally wreak havoc on your teeth if consumed often enough.

The Three Ways Sour, Sticky Candy Destroys Your Teeth

We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth. It feeds the plaque in our mouth. The bacteria then produce acid that dissolves the enamel on our teeth.

Sour candy is twice as harmful because it dissolves the enamel directly on contact. Even if you brush all the time and have a small number of bacteria in your mouth, sour candy will still damage your teeth.

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Keep Teeth Below Freezing
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Inside of your mouth everyday there is a war going on.  Tiny bits of your teeth become casualties to the acidic weapons of your plaque.

If you take good care of your teeth, the tooth structure that is lost can be replaced and your teeth can remain healthy.

If you don’t take care of your teeth, plaque will grow on your teeth and eventually win the battle by forming a cavity.

The Iceberg Analogy

IcebergThink of an iceberg sitting in the middle of the ocean.  As long as the temperature is right, the iceberg will continue to exist in its regular shape and size.  But what happens if the temperature starts to get warmer and the iceberg starts melting?  If the temperature gets back to freezing quickly enough, then the ice that began to melt can re-freeze and remain part of the iceberg.  If not, it might be lost forever.

A similar phenomenon happens in your mouth.  Imagine for a moment that your teeth are made out of ice.  When you eat something that the bacteria in your mouth like to eat, such as any food containing sugar, then your teeth start to “melt”. You lose tiny bits of enamel from your teeth.  The sugar acts like the  sun.  If you continue eating it, it will keep eroding your teeth!

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Sugars That Hurt Teeth
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Did you know that carbohydrates are really sugars?  Carbohydrates are just long chains of sugars hooked together.  Fortunately, the bacteria in our mouths can’t break down those long chains of carbohydrates.

However, the bacteria in our mouths do love to feed on the monosaccharides (simple sugars) and the disaccharides (sugars that are links of two simple sugars.)

There are five main sugars that can feed the bacteria in our mouths.  When we feed these oral bacteria, it causes them to produce acid.  This acid sits on our teeth and causes cavities.  The acid can also literally dissolve our teeth if we let it.

Where are these sugars found?  You may be surprised to find that these sugars are in many “healthy” foods, as well as many unhealthy ones.

The Five Sugars That Hurt Your Teeth

Sugar Cubes1. Sucrose – Sucrose is probably the best-known sugar since it is the sugar that most people use in their house, common table sugar.  It is a sugar made up of glucose and fructose.  Sucrose is the main sugar found in most candy.  It is also the sweetest sugar.  Sucrose comes from sugar cane, sugar beets, and maple trees.

An interesting fact about sucrose is that the main bacteria in our mouths may be able to easily convert sucrose into the glue that holds plaque onto our teeth and makes it more difficult to remove when brushing and flossing.

2. Fructose – Fructose is the main sugar found in fruit, berries, melons, corn, and root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  In general, fructose is not considered as sweet as sucrose.  However, when fructose is concentrated into a substance known as high fructose corn syrup, it does become sweeter than sucrose and is much more harmful to our teeth than regular fructose.

High fructose corn syrup has become almost a universal sweetener since it is cheaper, sweeter, and easier to blend into products because it is a liquid.  Next time you drink some fruit punch or soda pop, look at the ingredients, and you will most likely see high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient right after water.

3. Glucose – Glucose is the main energy source of the body.  The body breaks down all of the other sugars into glucose.  Glucose can also be found in many of the foods we eat.  Glucose is usually found linked with other sugars such as with fructose to form sucrose.  However, glucose can be found itself in wines and other foods and drinks.

While glucose is harmful to your teeth, it is the main sugar found in your body.  A recent study shows that glucose may be healthier than fructose for your overall health.  Maybe in the future, more foods and beverages will start being sweetened with glucose rather than fructose.

Grains are Carbohydrates that Contain Maltose4. Lactose – Lactose is more commonly known as milk sugar.  It is a sugar formed by the two simple sugars galactose and glucose.  It is found in many dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.  Although lactose doesn’t even taste sweet, it can still be broken down by the bacteria on your teeth to produce acid.

5. Maltose – Maltose is the sugar that is found in grains such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal.  It can also be found in drinks that are made from grains, like beer.  Beer not only contains sugar, but it is also acidic enough to dissolve our teeth.  It is made up of two glucose molecules hooked together.

Similar to lactose, maltose doesn’t taste sweet, so we may not think that it is harming our teeth.

You Don’t Need to Avoid Eating Sugar Altogether

The calcium dairy products provides in our diet is very valuable.  Just because dairy products contain lactose doesn’t mean that they should be avoided.  Also, breads, grains, and pasta are very important carbohydrate-rich energy sources that shouldn’t be eliminated from our diet just because they contain maltose.

The most important thing to remember is that we need to have moderation and choose our sugars wisely.  The first three sugars, glucose, fructose, and sucrose don’t really provide a nutritional benefit to us.  We should eat them in moderation.

If you find yourself eating a lot of sugar, you can try rinsing out your mouth after eating.  This will do two things: it will help rinse away the sugar that is hanging around in your mouth and it will rinse away any acid that is already harming your teeth.

Lactose and maltose are found in foods that are very good for us.  These sugars don’t need to be avoided; it’s just important to practice good oral hygiene after eating them so that we minimize the harmful effects of these sugars on our teeth.

Do you have any tips on how to reduce sugar intake? Let us know in the comments!