There are many foods and beverages that a person consumes that affect the teeth. Although sugar is generally thought to be the main cause of cavities and tooth decay, it is actually acid that damages teeth most often. The effects of acid on teeth can be quite severe. Much of the tooth replacement work that is accomplished in a dentist's office is due to tooth exposure to acid. Where the acid comes from and how it gets into your teeth will probably surprise you.
Acid that causes tooth decay comes from two main sources. The first source of acid damage to your teeth is an intrinsic source or a source that comes from inside your body. Stomach acid or gastric acid causes a huge amount of damage to the enamel surfaces of your teeth. Because a large portion of the adult population suffers from stomach issues, including GERD or gastroesophogeal reflux disease, that stomach acid is more common than one might imagine.
In cases of patients with GERD, the acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus and often, into the mouth. Exposure to gastric acid causes what dentists refer to as dental erosion. Dental erosion is most common in the spaces between teeth and the folds on the surface of the teeth.
An extrinsic source of dental erosion comes from sources that are outside of your body. The most common extrinsic cause of erosion is sugar. One might not imagine that sugar will force the production of acid in your mouth, but that is exactly what happens when you consume sugary foods. There are several types of bacteria that are commonly found in the mouth.
Generally, the bacteria in your mouth are completely harmless. Add a little sugar to your diet and those bacteria produce the type of acid that erodes the enamel of your teeth. Most often, your saliva will protect your teeth from the erosive acid caused by bacteria. When sugary snacks are an everyday occurrence, the normally harmless bacteria go into overdrive and your saliva is no longer sufficient protection for your teeth.
Another extrinsic source of dental erosion is beverages with a low pH. In general, a pH level below 5.0 is dangerous for teeth. Low pH acid sources are sodas, especially those that are fruit flavored, and fruit juices. Believe it or not, that orange juice that is so good for your body is terrible for your teeth. The longer the acid in a cola remains on your teeth, the more damaging it becomes. The acid actually melts the enamel from the outer surface of the tooth and will cause decay to continue right into the center of the tooth, called the dentin.