The many worlds of acid and your mouth
There are many different aspects to acidity that can affect your mouth. Let’s see if I can make this simple for you to understand.
In chemistry neutral is defined as a pH of 7.0, anything below is considered acidic and above is basic. The lower the number is the more acidic it is and the higher the number the more basic it is. Your mouth likes a neutral to basic environment.
Bacteria live in a biofilm that is around the teeth and gum tissues. When the mouth is healthy and oral hygiene is excellent the biofilm will consist predominantly of good bacteria. However, when the biofilm turns acidic it will allow for the cavity producing bacteria to grow more and overgrow the good bacteria. And to top it off, bad bacteria have the ability to give their cavity causing ability to the good bacteria. The key to health is that the biofilm never become acidic. Eating too much refined carbohydrates, snacking too frequently and poor home care and diminished salivary flow (dry mouth) are all major factors in allowing the biofilm to turn acidic.
When the bacteria that feed off of sugar react with sugar they create a specific acid that removes minerals from the teeth. The good news is that these minerals stay very close to the tooth. Saliva (which is usually neutral or slightly basic) can change the acidity back closer to a neutral pH and the minerals which were removed by the bacteria and extra minerals in the saliva can be reabsorbed by the tooth. This action is called remineralization. You only get a cavity when you overload the system, i.e. too many refined carbohydrates, snacking or frequency of snacking and poor oral hygiene.
Then there is the concept of acidic food and beverages. A good example would be a diet coke. It has no sugar but it is very acidic (you can clean your toilet by pouring a can in the toilet and let it sit for an hour). We have known for years that this acidity can lead to enamel erosion but not cavities. That is why you shouldn’t brush your teeth for a half hour after you drink anything acidic (all carbonated beverages, Gatorade, and even lots of bottled waters are acidic). Tooth brushing after that type of acidic attack can lead to erosion of the enamel (the toothbrush and paste are like sandpaper on the enamel of your teeth). If you are curious about the pH of anything you drink or eat just google it and you can get a good idea of what you’ve got.
Here is something new that I learned recently. The acidity of these beverages, even if they don’t have any sugar in it, help drive the acidity of the biofilm. This in turns allows for more cavity causing bacteria to grown in the biofilm. The bad news is that this does increase your risks of getting cavities when you do eat anything with sugar.
So what can you do to keep the level of acidity in your mouth more neutral? I would love to give you some really inexpensive ways to do it. Perhaps the easiest way is to take a bottle of water and put as much baking soda in it that will blend in. Keep it nearby and after you eat or drink anything that is acidic or can cause cavities rinse your mouth with it. The pH of the solution is very basic and will help neutralize the acidity very quickly. You can also drink alkaline water as by definition it is the opposite of acidic. If you don’t have access to either rinsing your mouth with tap water is another way to help out. Lastly you can chew sugarless gum or have sugarless mints, either will increase salivary flow to help change the acidity quicker.
Someone asked me the other day, what can you do for damaged or eroded enamel, can an individual do anything to help it heal and regrow? As of today that answer is no once it is gone it is gone. Dentists can help protect exposed areas or esthetic areas with restorative dentistry, you can use a desensitizing toothpaste if you have sensitivity to hot, cold or sweets (no guarantee this will work). In our office we also can use a laser or ozone gas to help reduce sensitivities.
I know this is very confusing, so if you have any questions feel free to call me at the office 323-934-3341 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org