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Acid attack – the effects of acidic drinks on tooth enamel


Part of my job as your general dentist involves diet counselling conversations with my patients. Oftentimes, I find myself giving tips on avoiding frequent sugary drink / soft drink consumption, and trying to replace that with water wherever possible, and the common response is

Yes! I sip on lemon water/soda water all day!

While there are health benefits to adding citrus fruits into one’s diet, and arguably, mineral water is “better for you” when compared to full-sugar soft drinks or energy drinks, there is one major culprit – one that can be responsible for enamel loss and sensitivity – present in both drinks, and we often forget all about it – acid.

Tooth enamel is the hardest mineral structure in our bodies, however, in a situation of prolonged, recurrent exposure to strong acids, enamel starts to break down, exposing the underlying dentine, which oftentimes causes yellowing of teeth and sensitivity to extremes of temperature; people with acid erosion-induced enamel loss often complain of not being able to enjoy their ice cream or are unable to withstand cold drinks when out socialising with friends.

For those of us keen on the scientific background to acid erosion, ‘pH’ is a term representing the relative acidity of different compounds – the lower the number, the more acidic the compound. If the pH of saliva falls below 5.5, this is the point where enamel starts to break down. Carbonic acid – the acid present in soda water – has a pH of only 3-4! Likewise, lemon juice reads at a pH of about 3. Prolonged exposure to such acidity oftentimes has a detrimental – and irreversible – effect on tooth enamel; once enamel is gone, it cannot grow back.

So what do I do? Can I even enjoy anything anymore?

All hope is not lost! We can all still enjoy the foods and drinks we like, but the key words are 

  1. Moderation, and 
  2. Frequency! 

The only problem with the above enthusiastic patient statement was the addition of ‘all day’. Enjoying a glass of soda water or lemon water occasionally, perhaps with an evening meal, is generally quite safe. However, constantly sipping on acidic drinks throughout the day doesn’t give your body a chance to neutralise the acids, and this causes damage to your enamel. 

What if I brush my teeth straight after?

Brushing your teeth immediately after consuming an acidic drink may cause abrasion and erosion from the friction of the toothbrush against an already-acidic environment. For this reason, your dentist will usually recommend waiting for 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. 

I think I have acid erosion! What do I do? 

While the key is prevention, some of us may suspect they already have acid erosion and sensitivity. In this case, there are dental treatment options we can offer that help not only reduce and perhaps eliminate the sensitivity, but also improve the appearance of your teeth. 

If you are suspecting you may have acid erosion, visit your local dentist — we’re happy to help!