Left unchecked without moderation in consumption, citric acid is gasoline on teeth, mixing as well as oil and water, wildfires and homes.
What tastes so sweet today can leave a bitter aftertaste on your dental health later and for years to come.
We’re not trying to give all sugars and citric acids a bad name here or incur the wrath of the American Beverage Association. Sugars and acids by themselves does not cause damage to teeth. When used a common preservative in food, citric acid has little effect on the corrosion of teeth.
It’s the troublesome abrasiveness of food particles and the addition of other substances that causes teeth’s enamel to become worn and acid to gain the title of Enamel’s Public Enemy No. 1. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that feeds on sugars from food and drinks. This bacteria, AKA plaque, sticks to teeth, producing acids that eat through the enamel on your teeth. This bacteria releases lactic acid as a by-product that dissolves the calcium in our teeth.
Saliva, Our Teeth’s Quiet Superhero
It’s our saliva, a calcium-rich under-appreciated superhero in the fight against cavities, that dilutes erosive agents, rinses out your mouth and neutralizes the acidic effect on your teeth.
“Saliva,” Howard Pollock, a San Francisco-based dentist and spokesman for the American Dental Association, told WebMD, “(has) the ability to counter the bad effects of sugar.”
But consuming high acidic foods over long periods of years while taking minimal or no preventive measures can have adverse effects on the strength of the enamel of your teeth. Carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices like apple and cranberry are the worst rust machines known to teeth.Tea, coffee, red wine and cigarettes are also terrible enamel cripplers.
It’s citric and phosphoric acid in these delicious guilty pleasures that do the damage by attacking and dissolving the calcium that comprises teeth. People battling dry mouth or low saliva are especially vulnerable to developing tooth decay.
Countering The Citric Acid Effect
So how can we counter the potentially devastating Citric Acid effect? The American Dental Association notes there are a number of measures we can take to slow the erosion of our teeth’s enamel. You’ve probably heard of these proven acidic counter measures.
Brush, Rinse and Floss twice daily.
Rinsing with a mouthwash in addition to water will help kill the bacteria in your mouth as well as restore the ph balance to a healthier starting place.
If you’re going to indulge on a sugary, acidic feast, do it once a day rather than in a series of potentially even more harmful snacks through the day. For the more often you eat sugars, the more often those acids get a chance to chip away at your pearly whites.
The formula: Soda, Energy Drinks and Donuts for breakfast, a Snickers bar for a mid-afternoon snack and cake after dinner all add up to an all-day acidic attack on your teeth and leave your hard-working saliva overmatched to clean up the damage.
“It’s not how much sugar and starch we eat,” Farmington, N.M. Dentist Kimberly Harms told WebMD. “It’s how you eat.
“If you’re going to eat an entire meal, that’s really one encounter, one acid attack. But if you’re sipping a soft drink, or eating anything with a carbohydrate in it, each time you take a sip, you’re going to create an acid attack on your teeth.
“We have a saying, ‘Sip all day, risk decay.”
The Downside of Sugary Snacking
Dental expects stress it takes 20 minutes for our saliva to clear the sugars left on our teeth after a meal. When you follow up a meal with a sugary snack you neutralize all the sugar clearance work your mouth just did.
“When you have another sugar product in your mouth, your mouth is constantly exposed to the bad effects of the sugar and bacteria in your mouth, and you’re constantly getting this demineralization of the tooth surface,” Pollock said.
This, Pollock says, leads to teeth decay and the softening of teeth.
“Eventually,” he stresses, “(this leads to) pain and root canals; or maybe the teeth needing to be pulled.
“It’s truly devastating to some people.”
Using straws when enjoying acidic drinks, swapping healthy water for soda and chewing sugar-free gum between meals can also help your mouth recover from your sugary acid trips.
A Fight for Our Overall Health
In essence, the first fight in our battle against tooth decay is the daily preventive measures we take to counter the acidic effect of sugars and bacteria on our teeth. As Dr. Seuss told kids in his timeless classic “The Tooth Book,” “They sure are handy when you smile. So keep your teeth around for a while.”
But Harms stresses the stakes go much higher than just protecting our enamel.
“Oral health is an integral part of overall health,” she said. “What people don’t realize is that people who have higher levels of gum disease also have a higher level of heart disease.
“People need to realize that the bacteria and inflammation associated with your biding fighting the bacteria can have an effect in other areas of the body. We don’t quite understand all of this yet. But we know there’s a link.”