Acid erosion of teeth is becoming an increasingly more destructive problem than in years past. It can occur whenever the presence of acid comes in contact with teeth. This occurs more than most people realize. Many of the popular foods and beverages that people consume today are very acidic and can damage tooth enamel and dentin. I think it’s important to understand this process in order to prevent sever permanent damage to the dentition.
The PH scale was developed to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a sample. Without getting into too much detail on basic chemistry, anything below a seven on the scale is considered acidic while anything above a seven is considered alkaline. The sweet spot is around seven and that is considered to be neutral PH. As the PH drops in the mouth, teeth will begin to dissolve at about 5.5.
The classic science project that kids used to do when I was in Jr. High was to take an extracted tooth and let it sit in cola for a few days. The PH of cola drinks is between 2.5 and 3.0. This is well below the 5.5 threshold that will dissolve tooth enamel. This means that cola will dissolve the enamel on teeth in the mouth. People have been drinking cola for a long time so this is nothing new. But other drinks have come on the market in recent years that are more acidic than cola and the quantities that people drink is far more than in years past.
Many people don’t realize it, but energy drinks are far more destructive to tooth enamel than soda and cola drinks. This is in part due to the lower PH level. Consumption of energy drinks has been on the rise in the last decade or so and there has also been an increase in the prevalence of the acid erosion of enamel. A study done by the Academy of General Dentistry found that some energy drinks can cause as much as ten times the amount of enamel loss on extracted teeth. This was done as the classic science experiment was by allowing teeth to bathe continuously in the beverage which isn’t the conditions that are present in the mouth. However, the destructive potential of acidic beverages is undeniable and the more that teeth are in contact with the low PH, the more enamel loss will occur.
Not only the amount of these beverages is important but also the way people drink them can make a huge difference. Minimizing drinking such beverages will minimize the amount of enamel loss. Those who drink multiple acidic sodas and/or energy drinks a day or who nurse a single drink for a long time will have more acid erosion. Using a straw will help minimize contact of the beverage with the teeth.
My recommendation is that the consumption of energy drinks be eliminated from the diet, or at least be minimized to the point of being consumed only when needed such as replenishing electrolytes after physical exertion. Caffeinated energy drinks should be avoided as they become addictive and have little use for hydration. Consumption of soda should be minimized as well. I do think it’s alright to have an occasional soda drink with a meal but remember that it’s the amount of time the beverage is in contact with the teeth. As far as the health of the teeth is concerned, it would be better to consume a soda drink in one sitting regardless of the amount than it would to drink it over an extended period of time.
There are other things that can cause acid erosion of the teeth that I will discuss at a later time.