As early as grade school, most of us were taught that digestion begins in the mouth.
Through the process of chewing, a flow of acid surges into the mouth via saliva. These acids are the initial stage of digestion, helping to break foods down so, once swallowed, they are better prepared for the next phase of digestion.
One of the reasons we are urged to chew food slowly is to allow these acids to work efficiently. When well-chewed food arrives in the stomach, the continuing process of digestion can more easily cultivate vitamins, protein, fiber, and minerals from newly-arrived contents.
But, back to the mouth. It is in the mouth that, as a dentist, I have a firsthand view of the damage that these acids can cause. While beneficial to the digestive process, oral acids can put teeth at high risk. And, when those acids are mixed with acidic foods and beverages, the acid levels are able to reach a pretty severe level.
Before I touch on acidic foods and beverages, however, I’d like to address sugar. Because sugar is not deemed an acidic food, people are often unaware of just how harmful it can be.
Bacteria in the mouth are living organisms, which mean they eat and reproduce. Sugar is a preferred food since it tends to rev up their growth. The more bacteria that are in the mouth, the greater the risks for problems.
When oral bacteria multiply faster, plaque forms faster, too. This is a sticky film of bacteria that coats the teeth and gums. Sugar helps plaque to grow faster and become glue-like, so it is able to be more adhered to teeth. This means it is more challenging for saliva to remove oral bacteria throughout the day.
Oral bacteria is the origin for nearly every problem that occurs in the mouth. From gum problems (including periodontal disease) to cavities to bad breath to tooth loss – an over-accumulation of bacteria is typically the culprit.
So, back to acid from other eats and drinks. We often overlook the fact that so much of what we consume is acidic. Tomatoes and citrus fruits are generally known as being acid. However, many people are unaware that things like wine, salad dressings, colas, and coffee are all acidic as well.
Adding acids to the mouth through food and beverages means you are adding to already naturally-occurring oral acids. This increases acidic levels in the mouth to such an extent that they can actually soften tooth enamel.
Of course, we’re not saying you should eliminate your morning coffee deny yourself a glass of wine with dinner. We are, however, giving you better awareness of the higher risk you have for developing problems as a result.
How do you minimize acid’s potential for smile problems that can be costly and time-consuming to repair?
First, consider that what you consume enters your body through the mouth — it’s the first contact. Thus, acidic foods and beverages do the most damage at the entry point. Simply being aware of their potential for damage can help you be more proactive in prevention.
Also, it is important to know how to lessen the effect of oral acids, which is pretty easy. Keep a glass of water (unflavored) nearby and take gulps occasionally, letting the water wash over your teeth and gums before swallowing.
Or, better yet, slip away to the bathroom between each drink or meal and swish water in the mouth. Take several mouthfuls of water, swish, and spit it out after each time.
Naturally, brushing twice a day helps to remove oral bacteria. But, it must be done thoroughly. Spend at least two minutes per brushing (even when using an electric toothbrush) and move across all surfaces of each tooth. Finish up by brushing the tongue, which typically harbor millions of bacteria. Floss daily and swish several times afterward.
As we age, saliva becomes less plentiful. Too, many medications have side effects that are drying to oral tissues. To counteract these effects, drink plenty of water throughout the day. Watch your intake of foods and beverages that can be drying to the mouth, such as caffeinated beverages and spicy foods.
If you smoke, you need the added protection of an oral rinse to replenish moisture. It may also be advised that you see your dentist every 3-4 months rather than every 6.
Lastly, be aware that each time you eat or drink (other than water), acid flows into the mouth. This surge of acid continues for 20 or so minutes after your last drink or bite. The longer you spend eating or drinking, the longer your mouth must endure the elevated acidic onslaught.
This is a common reason why children who frequently use a sippy cup of juice or teens who sip colas throughout the day are so prone to cavities. And, adults who are coffee, tea, or cola drinkers throughout the day are also upping their risk for dental problems.
To us, the more our patients know about how to prevent problems in the first place, the healthier and happier their smiles. That’s always the goal!
Begin with an examination and cleaning. We’ll help get your smile in excellent shape so it’s easier to maintain between visits. We’ll customize an at-home program so you are better able to keep it in great shape between visits, too!
Call 843-871-6351 or tap here to begin.