We have all heard that excessive acid in a diet is bad for our digestive tracts. But what happens when our mouths become too acidic? Oral acidity can harm teeth because it can lead to a process called demineralization. The word means exactly what it sounds like: the stripping of minerals from tooth enamel. Minerals like calcium and phosphorous keep tooth enamel hard – in fact, healthy, mineralized enamel is actually the hardest substance in the human body.
As tooth enamel weakens due to demineralization, it softens and bacteria invade. Thus, a cavity can develop. The longer and more repeated the acid exposure, the more damage tooth enamel sustains. Acid erosion of enamel is becoming more common in children, as kids consume sugary carbonated energy drinks and sugary sports drinks. Certain foods contribute to a more acidic environment in the mouth. By avoiding these foods, you will take steps toward better oral health and a reduced risk for tooth decay.
In today’s blog Bryn Mawr cosmetic dentist Dr. Gershberg reviews how simple diet changes and the use of xylitol products can keep the pH of saliva neutral.
Diet Change Can Prevent Cavities
The pH scale begins at 1 with the maximum acidity and ranges up to 14 for the highest alkaline level. A healthy mouth falls in the neutral range which is a pH of 7. If a mouth dips below the neutral pH level to a pH of 5.5, teeth will demineralize, weaken, and become more likely to develop tooth decay. Acid literally pulls minerals out of tooth enamel, leaving it soft and vulnerable to decay, as well as permanent enamel erosion.
A diet with an overabundance of meat and dairy products can contribute to high oral acidity, which could put teeth at risk for cavities and erosion. Simple diet changes can keep your mouth’s pH at a neutral level. Diets that develop an alkaline environment, such as the “alkaline diet,” can counteract the effects of acid. The alkaline diet recommends eating many fruits, vegetables, and drinking water, rather than consuming mostly dairy products and meat. It also advises limiting sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Sugar is a starch, and all starches contribute to saliva becoming more acidic. Processed foods or fast food products are also considered to be acid-promoting foods and should be avoided.
Xylitol: Natural Sweetener that Promotes Alkalinity
Xylitol is a low-calorie sugar substitute. Eating xylitol gum, mints, and other candies, instead of sugar-laden varieties of these products, reduces an individual’s overall sugar intake. Unlike aspartame and sucralose, xylitol is a natural sweetener that is extracted from wood or corncobs. When chewing gum or consuming products containing xylitol, saliva becomes more alkaline in comparison to saliva exposed to other sugar products.
When a mouth’s pH swings above 7 and becomes more alkaline, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva penetrate damaged tooth enamel and remineralize it. This process strengthens teeth and makes enamel more resistant to cavities. As a result, xylitol can actually repair tooth enamel early in the demineralization process.
Research reveals that xylitol can lower the occurrence of cavities in children, mothers, and in children through their mothers. Even limited consumption of xylitol is associated with fighting cavities because it can reduce the bacteria Streptococcus mutans that causes tooth decay. Xylitol also has the benefit of boosting saliva flow. A healthy saliva flow is important because it neutralizes plaque acids and remineralizes tooth enamel.
About Your Bryn Mawr Cosmetic Dentist
Cosmetic and implant dentist Dr. Stephen Gershberg has been serving patients in the Delaware Valley and Main Line for over three decades. Dr. Gershberg’s wide array of services includes teeth whitening, porcelain veneers, Invisalign, and sleep apnea treatment. He also provides a special test that can determine the pH in your mouth. Patients who suffer from GERD or acid reflux may experience more cavities due to acids introduced into the oral cavity. Dr. Gershberg can determine if this is a problem for you, as well. Feel free to ask us at your next appointment or call today to schedule a consultation at 610-527-6700.
Our dental office serves the Philadelphia area and Main Line, including Narbeth, Gladwyne, Lower Merion, Bryn Mawr, and Ardmore.