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Erosion: What You Eat and Drink Can Impact Teeth

Chart detailing drinks that are erosive to enamel

Image source: ADA patient education brochure Tooth Erosion: The Harmful Effects of Acid – W301*

Think that only sweet-tasting drinks and snacks are harmful for your teeth? Think again. 

Sugar isn’t the only dietary factor that can damage your smile. Foods and beverages that are high in acids wear away the enamel that protects your teeth, a process known as tooth erosion. This changes the appearance of your teeth and opens the door for bacteria that can cause cavities or infection.

What Does Tooth Erosion Do to My Teeth?

Tooth erosion is permanent. If your enamel has started to wear away, you may:

  • Feel pain or sensitivity when consuming hot, cold or sweet drinks
  • Notice a yellowish discoloration of the teeth
  • Find that your fillings have changed
  • Face greater risks for more cavities over time
  • Develop an abscess, in very extreme cases 
  • Experience tooth loss, also in very extreme cases

Once erosion occurs, you may need fillings, crowns, a root canal or even tooth removal. Veneers may also be an option to restore the look of your smile.

Acidic Foods and Beverages to Watch For

Here’s a quick tip: If what you’re eating or drinking is citrus or citrus-flavored, carbonated or sour, it’s best to limit how much you consume. 

Nutritious, acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can have some acidic effects on tooth enamel, so eat them as part of a meal, not by themselves. Dried fruits, including raisins, can also cause problems because they are sticky and adhere to teeth, so the acids produced by cavity-causing bacteria continue to harm teeth long after you stop eating them. 

Still, the major erosion culprit is soft drinks, especially soda and sports drinks. Even if they are sugar-free, they are more likely to be acidic thanks to carbonation. That bubbly fizz raises the acid level of any drink, regardless of its flavor. 

Acid in beverages can also come from citrus flavorings such as lemon, lime and orange. Even all-natural beverages like orange juice or fresh-squeezed lemonade are higher in acid than regular water, so make them an occasional treat instead of a daily habit. 

And speaking of treats, some sour candies are almost as acidic as battery acid, and many use citric acids to get that desired effect. If you like a little sour with your sweet tooth, please pucker in moderation.

Tips for Protecting Your Teeth

You can reduce tooth erosion from what you eat and drink by following these tips:

  • Wait an hour before you brush after eating acidic foods to give your saliva a chance to naturally wash away acids and re-harden your enamel.
  • Limit – or avoid – acidic beverages like soft drinks. If you do indulge, use a straw. 
  • When drinking something like a soft drink, do not swish or hold it in your mouth longer than you need to. Just sip and swallow. 
  • After acidic meals or beverages, rinse your mouth with water, drink milk or enjoy a snack of cheese right afterward. Dairy and other calcium-rich foods can help neutralize acids. 
  • Saliva helps keep acids under control. To keep your saliva flowing and protecting your teeth, chew sugarless gum with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. 
  • Look for dental health products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This means the product is safe and effective, and some have been awarded the ADA Seal specifically because they help prevent and reduce enamel erosion from dietary acids.
  • Talk to your dentist. Your dentist can explain the effects of nutritional choices on your teeth, including the various foods and beverages to choose and which ones to avoid. Knowing all you can about the effects of what you eat and drink on your teeth can help keep your smile bright over a lifetime.

More on Erosion

 *Call 800.947.4746 or visit ADAcatalog.org to order erosion brochure.