What is the Science Behind Why You Should Avoid Acidic Foods if You Want to Keep Your Teeth White?

Soft drinks, ice cream, baked goods, and hamburgers—all delicious, but all highly acidic. And unfortunately, those acids can discolor your teeth. Why? We asked the experts! Read on to learn more.

Deepak Shukla

Deepak Shukla is the CEO and co-founder of Plant Sumo - a plant-based meal prep service. When he’s not in the kitchen thinking up delicious and fresh vegan meals, you can find him running marathons and completing Ironmen.

Acidic foods erode your enamel

Acidic foods, such as meat, soft drinks, and even dairy can damage your teeth by weakening and softening enamel.

Ultimately, this causes tooth erosion whereby the inner layer of your teeth, called dentin, and your gum line become exposed. Once exposed, they’re even more susceptible to bacteria that can lead to further infection and cavities.

This process is called demineralization, whereby bacteria in our mouths called Streptococcus mutans metabolize the sucrose (or sugars) in our food into lactic acid. It’s this lactic acid that causes tooth erosion and discoloration.

A healthy mouth will have a near-neutral pH level, so acidic foods, or foods that are high in sucrose - like processed and fast foods, are going to bring that pH level down.

That’s why it’s important to eat not only calcium-rich foods like beans and legumes to strengthen enamel but to balance your diet with alkaline-rich foods. Foods like root vegetables and leafy greens are not only nutritious but high-alkaline.

On top of that, things like apples and celery are fibrous and work well as tooth cleaners. Strawberries even contain a good acid, called malic acid which acts as a tooth-whitening enzyme. Plus, these foods increase saliva production to clean teeth and break up particles that might stain teeth.

Overall, acidic foods and foods that are high in sucrose erode your enamel, which invites bacteria, infection, and discoloration. That’s why you should consider avoiding acidic foods if you want white teeth or at least try to balance your diet with high-alkaline plant-based additions.

Albert Lee

Albert Lee

Albert Lee, Founder of Home Living Lab.

Reduce the pH in the oral cavity

The crown of our teeth is made up of 3 layers. The outer layer which is enamel, the middle layer which is dentine, and then we reach the inner layer which is the dental pulp. Enamel is a mineral-dense outer layer that varies from light yellow to blue-light white. The middle layer of dentine contains fewer minerals and is usually yellow.

Our oral cavity is usually maintained at a pH of about 6.7 to 7.3, but frequent exposure to acidic foods will reduce the pH in the oral cavity. When the pH of our oral cavity dips to 5.5 and below, that is when enamel starts to demineralize. If the acidic stimulus is removed at this point, our enamel can remineralize as the pH returns to normal.

THowever, if an abrasive force is applied to the tooth before the enamel is remineralized, the enamel can potentially be abraded away and expose the underlying dentine. The underlying dentine generally takes on a yellower tinge, and hence our tooth will lose the natural translucent whitish color of pristine teeth. Hence, it is recommended that tooth brushing be done only 30 minutes after an acidic exposure to our teeth.

John Andersen

Dr. John Andersen

Dr. John Andersen is the co-founder and president of the Periogen Company, Inc. He and his brother James Andersen developed Periogen Oral Rinse, the world’s first and only dental tartar reducing oral rinse.

Can accelerate the hardening of plaque

Wine, particularly red wine, will stain teeth as it has strong pigments and is quite acidic in nature. Also, the enamel on teeth is not perfectly smooth, and, as a result, may accelerate the staining process. In addition to that, you may have some plaque and tartar deposits that will stain as well. Plaque is a sticky film made up of saliva and food particles that starts forming within hours of brushing while dental tartar is simply the plaque that has calcified (hardened) onto teeth and is quite porous and stains easily.

Interestingly, acidic liquids such as wine, soda, and even some mouth rinses can accelerate the hardening of plaque into dental tartar that will only worsen the staining process. Additionally, porous dental tartar provides a habitat for the bad bacteria to thrive, and as this tartar grows down into the gum line along with the tooth, symptoms of gum disease begin as your body battles the building periodontal infection. Ironically, the deeper the infection in your gum line the more insulated the bacteria become from mouth rinse treatments, and even prescription mouth rinse can become ineffective. It will then be up to your dentist to determine a treatment plan.

Periodontal disease can become a chronic infection and has been associated with everything from heart disease to dementia. The best prevention for wine discoloration of teeth is to keep your mouth clean and healthy through good daily oral care that includes keeping plaque and tartar deposits off your teeth and see your dentist regularly.

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