"We don’t eat candy in our family, so why does my kid keep getting cavities?!"
Another dentist appointment…another cavity. You feel like it’s your parent report card, and you can’t seem to get an A. You help them brush. They don’t sit around eating candy all day.
So, you tell yourself either:
Well, we are here to help assuage the guilt! When we consider how complex the human body is, why should the mouth and its unique biology be any different? There are 10,000 genes responsible for the formation of teeth. Our own unique physiology can predispose us to developing decay. Yes, some dental conditions are genetic! And yes, some enamel actually is softer than other enamel. There are many factors that contribute to tooth decay, and they must all be working in concert together to create the “perfect storm” that becomes a cavity. As a parent, we cannot control every factor, but we can largely control diet. The focus here is to illustrate the role of acid, the various sources of it in our diets.
Enamel is designed for optimum strength above a pH level of 5.5. Water and saliva hover around a pH of 7. Eating food….ANY food (or beverages, for that matter)… drops the neutral pH of the mouth below this level to a zone where enamel starts to become soft. Therefore, individuals who routinely snack or consume small meals are exposing their teeth more frequently to this low pH, softening the teeth and making them more susceptible to tooth decay. Further, when these snacks are acidic themselves, the damage becomes more severe. Add carbs (which are broken down into simple sugars), and it becomes the perfect diet for oral bacteria to bore into a tooth like a worm in an apple.
Foods with high acid content include applesauce, cherries, mangos, oranges, plumbs, iced tea, carbonated beverages, pickles, grapefruits and sports drinks. Sour gummy bears have a pH level of 4, while an Altoid Mango Sour has a pH level of 3! Medium acidic foods include apples, pesto, pears and apricots. Foods with low acidity include probiotic yogurt, cucumbers, cheese, avocado, bananas and wheat bread.
While we don’t advocate eliminating highly acidic foods completely, it is better to consume something acidic in one sitting, rather than snacking periodically throughout the day, and drinking water to buffer the acid. For those children who do consume more meals/snacks per day, providing low acid snacks and plenty of water can help keep teeth as healthy as possible.
**Foods with high acidity are not necessarily the same food that produce acidic by-products, or contribute to an acidic or alkaline diet. We are strictly focusing on acidic food/beverages before and as they are consumed and are in contact with teeth, not the type of acidity/alkalinity they result in after being digested and converted inside the bloodstream.