When I ask new patients what they eat that might be hurting their teeth, some of them say candy. Then they assure me, “I usually brush after I eat sweets.” While that sounds good and brushing removes the plague on teeth that bacteria feed on, many people don’t know that the toothpaste they’re brushing with may be eroding their teeth.
The chemical process of dental erosion is one of the environmental factors that take a toll on teeth. It’s insidious because it’s usually pain-free and the damage isn’t noticed right away. Most toothpaste is too abrasive, and the ones that boast tartar control or whitening are the worst.
Toothpaste abrasiveness is rated with a “relative dentin abrasivity” number called an RDA value. The American Dental Association recommends using toothpaste with an RDA below 100, but additional research and clinical experience confirm that there’s a significant advantage to keeping the RDA below 70. The challenge for consumers is that RDA values aren’t listed on the packaging, so you’ll have to do some research to find out. If you’d like to see the ratings for many of the popular toothpastes, contact us for a free copy of the Toothpaste Abrasion Chart.
Just remember, you’re safest using a low-abrasive toothpaste (non-whitening) and a soft toothbrush.
Soft Drinks Are Hard on Teeth
Another teeth-eater is citric acid. This potent acid dissolves tooth structure, and it lurks in many beverages and sweets. Soft drinks, sport and energy drinks and even good old orange juice are chock-full of citric acid, and so are some sweets, including gummy bears and jam.
Citric acid is added to products to extend shelf life and enhance flavor. But while it may be pleasing to your taste buds, that doesn’t make it good for your teeth. Read labels so you can reduce the amount of citric acid in your diet. And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for phosphoric acid, commonly found in cola drinks, because it’s a teeth-eater, too.
Drinks and treats that are hazardous for your teeth have a pH level of 5.5 or lower (neutral pH is 7.0). Most beverages have a level below this critical threshold, so they can dissolve tooth structure. The pH level of nearly all soft drinks, energy drinks, canned ice tea, sports drinks and some fruit juices is less than 3.5, and many drinks have a pH below 3! Just for the record, diet soda won’t help you dodge the acidity bullet. As far as your teeth are concerned, diet drinks are just as destructive as the rest.
Taming the Effects of Citric Acid
If you can’t give up your favorite acidic drinks, here are a few ways you can minimize damage to your teeth:
- Reduce the amount of citric acidic you’re consuming by drinking less of your favorite acidic beverages at a time and drinking them less frequently.
- Don’t hold or swish acidic drinks in your mouth.
- Avoid sipping an acidic beverage over an extended period of time.
- If you’re a big fan of orange juice, buy the kind with added calcium; it’s gentler on your teeth.
- Drinking milk (pH of about 6.5) can help neutralize the acid. Soy and nut milks tend to have pH levels close to neutral, so they can be a good dairy-free alternative.
- Avoid brushing your teeth right after consuming something acidic. Instead, rinse your mouth with water (tap water is close to neutral), or better yet, use a rinse that contains fluoride. But keep in mind that many over-the-counter rinses have a low pH, which means they’re not good for your teeth. (In addition to the Toothpaste Abrasion Chart, we have a list of popular rinses and their pH levels that we’re happy to share with you.)
Stomach Acid Can Destroy Your Teeth
The citric acid that damages your teeth comes from the food and drinks that pass through your mouth, but stomach acid is also destructive to teeth. People who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may have a slew of common symptoms, including heartburn, chronic dry cough, hoarseness or sore throat, and trouble with swallowing. But many people with GERD don’t know it’s harmful to their teeth.
Whenever stomach acid makes its way into your mouth, it ruins more than your day. It ruins your teeth. If you suspect you have GERD, talk with your physician about treatment options and possible diet modifications. Controlling stomach acid and keeping it from going where it shouldn’t is critical for preventing tooth-structure loss, and this is particularly important for people who have GERD and for those who have the eating disorder bulimia.
Keep Your Teeth Strong With Proper Diagnosis and Care
Managing the loss of tooth structure is much more involved than simply preventing cavities. The complexity and interplay of many factors affecting oral health underscore the importance of getting a proper diagnosis and having a dentist who knows and understands how to manage your individual risks.
At LeVos Dentistry, we recommend proactive strategies to limit tooth erosion caused by acid, including using re-mineralizing toothpastes and gels, acid-neutralizing mouth rinses or sprays, and protective fillings. For more information, contact us at 303-674-5725 or visit our office at 30752 Southview Drive, Suite 200, Evergreen or our website, LeVosDentistry.com.