pH: A Surprising Cause of Cavities

How does the pH of your mouth affect your risk for cavities?

Most people know and understand that a diet high in sugar can be detrimental to their oral health.  But many people are unaware of the dangerous effects of acid to tooth structure.  In recent years, we have seen an increase in cavities among adults with good oral hygiene and diets low in sugar.  How does this happen?  It’s all about the pH!

Tooth decay starts with a process called demineralization, which is the softening of enamel or dentin surfaces caused by acid.  Just as acid can etch the surface of glass, it will damage and soften the surface of tooth enamel, making it much easier for bacteria to penetrate and cause decay.  In a healthy mouth with a neutral pH or 7.0 or higher, it takes a long time for bacteria to produce enough acid to cause a cavity.   Research has shown that demineralization of enamel occurs when the pH drops to 5.5.

Prolonged exposure of your teeth to any acid consistently weakens enamel, allowing cavities to form in an otherwise healthy mouth.  All carbonated drinks, including sparkling water, are very acidic, ranging from 2.5-4.0.

Is your water causing cavities?

If it is sparkling water, then it definitely could be.  If you’re using a reverse osmosis filtration system, even your tap water could become acidic and increase your risk for cavities!  Denton tap water is usually either neutral or slightly basic.  Reverse osmosis filtration drops the pH to a more acidic level.

pH testing of various brands of bottled water shows that even some of those are acidic.  The pH of your water can vary.  The easiest way to find out your water’s pH is to buy some small pH test strips at the drug store or online.

It is important to remember that enamel begins demineralization (or dissolving) at a pH of 5.5 or lower, so anything that will be exposed to your teeth for a long period of time should be above pH 5.5 in order to prevent cavity formation.


What can you do about it?

Here are a few tips to improve the pH in your mouth and decrease your risk for cavities:

  1. Only enjoy acidic drinks (anything below pH of 5.5) with meals or snacks.  Do not sip on them between meals or overnight.
  2. Only drink neutral drinks (pH 7.0 or above) in between meals.
  3. Avoid adding lemon juice to your drinks. Lemon juice is extremely acidic and drastically lowers the pH of your drink.
  4. After an acidic drink, chew xylitol-containing gum. Our favorite brand is Ice Cubes gum.  It comes in a wide variety of flavors, is available in most grocery and convenience stores, and contains almost 2g of xylitol per piece.  Not only does xylitol kill cavity-causing bacteria, the chewing motion stimulates saliva production, which brings the pH in your mouth back to neutral.
  5. Know your drinks.  In our experience, most of our patients have no idea that their favorite drink is very acidic and damaging to enamel.  You can test your beverages yourself with a pH testing kit or search the internet for common drinks.  Most food and drinks have an MSDS sheet (Material Safety Data Sheet) that includes their pH levels.

Do you have more questions about how pH can be affecting your mouth?

Call our office today at 940-382-1750 to set up a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will discuss your specific dietary habits and how they could be affecting your teeth.