Isn’t it interesting how one person can do a wonderful job brushing and flossing their teeth each day and still end up with cavities, while someone with poor habits can sidestep cavities altogether? In the few minutes it’ll take you to read this article, you’ll get a glimpse into one reason this happens. We’ll start by making a bold statement. That is: the primary reason people get cavities has a lot less to do with brushing and flossing, and a lot more to do with something most of us know little to nothing about: pH. We promise to make this easy on you – understanding pH is simpler than you think. No need to dust off your high school chemistry book!
Understanding pHIn order to make sense of pH, you only need to know two things. First, that “pH” is just a word used to indicate the corrosive nature of any watery solution (it’s simply a unit of measurement, like the words “teaspoon” or “mile”). And second, pH measurements are plotted out on what is called the “pH scale” represented by numbers that run between 0 and 14. On that scale, the number seven represents the midpoint, or “neutral” point of measurement. Also, in case you’re wondering, it is possible to have negative pH, and numbers higher than 14, but generally speaking those are results produced in a lab, and not something you’re likely to run into while navigating the grocery aisle.
Now that you know what pH is, consider the pH scale not as a rating system of chemicals, but a rating system of things you would want to put in your mouth. The further away you get away from the neutral seven, the less likely you are to enjoy the experience. For example, hydrochloric acid is measured at the very bottom of the scale (zero) – and we sure as heck don’t want that stuff in our mouth. Stomach acid is just above that at 1.5 - 3.5. A lemon, though, which comes in around 2.0, we could probably handle. Wine? Between 2.9 and 3.9. Water and milk are measured at seven – completely neutral, and saliva typically falls between 6.5 and 7.5. How about on the other side of the scale … the alkaline side? Well, eggs come in around 7.6, and baking soda, an 8.0. Beyond that it gets kinda’ icky, literally. Borax is a 9.0, and Lye is a 14.0. Definitely not items we’d want to swirl around in our mouth.
Applying pH to Your Teeth: It’s All about AcidSo how does pH affect your teeth? When we think about what causes cavities, most of us naturally think about sugar, because that’s what we’re told to avoid. However, it’s important to understand it isn’t sugar that destroys your teeth, it’s the digestion of that sugar by certain bacteria in the mouth that does the damage. The final result of that digestion process is a byproduct you won’t be surprised causes damage to teeth: acid.
So, basically, think of avoiding sugar as essentially avoiding acid, and you’ll be thinking about sugar as it relates to your teeth in the proper fashion.
Given what you now know about pH, you’ll likewise want to avoid consuming too much of anything that’s already acidic – things like soda, energy drinks, sport drinks and acidic fruit – they’re clearly bad for your teeth. Coffee, wine and tea are also pretty acidic, so be aware of their threat to your enamel as well.
Lastly, since pH isn’t something you’re going to find labeled on foods, here is a fantastic list of food items that will help bring the pH scale to life. Without a doubt, being mindful of what you put into your body will protect your teeth, and better fuel your body.