Teeth seem hard as nails sometimes. In fact, enamel -- that outermost layer of the tooth -- is pretty tough stuff. No biologically produced substances are harder. But once that enamel's gone, it's gone, leaving teeth weak and vulnerable to decay. Acids in certain foods and beverages play a large role in tooth decay by wreaking havoc on this all-important tooth armor. Here are seven of the worst acid attacks you could expose your pearly whites to:
1. Sports Drinks
Hydration during exercise is important, but reconsider guzzling sports drinks unless you're a true endurance athlete. In a study comparing the erosive effects of five different beverages -- including juice and soda -- sports drinks did the most harm. Their high concentration of strong acids produced the deepest enamel damage in teeth.
2. Energy Drinks
Need a liquid pick-me-up? Skip this tooth stripper.
In the study comparing five beverages, energy drinks were second worst after sports drinks -- mainly because they had little ability to buffer the acids in the beverage. And drinks like these are an especially bad idea for adolescents and young adults, whose tooth enamel is less mature and more porous
3. Soft Drinks
Sugar isn't the biggest culprit when it comes to a fizzy drink's impact on teeth.
These beverages -- diet or not -- strip minerals from tooth enamel because of their high acid content. We're talking corrosive acids like phosphoric, malic, citric, and tartaric. And the flavor of the fizz matters.
They all have an impact, but in a study, clear, citrus-flavored bubbly beverages (Mountain Dew) dissolved enamel two to five times more than colas did.
4. Fruit Juices
Fruit juices, especially citrus, apple, and berry varieties, are loaded with the kinds of acids that wear down tooth enamel.
Of course, juices also have some great-for-you qualities, too -- like vitamins and antioxidants. So don't write them off completely. Just drink them in moderation. Frequent fruit juice consumption has been linked to an increased risk of enamel erosion. As an extra measure, rinse afterward. And choose calcium-fortified juices that may pose less of a hazard to tooth enamel.
Ever seen someone suck on a slice of lemon or lime?
Here's why that's a bad idea: fruits from the citrus family -- including oranges, lemons, and limes -- contain enamel-damaging acids. Berries do, too. Still, you don't want to ditch fruit and all the RealAge benefits they confer. Just eat fruit with a meal to help minimize acid effects.
6. Sour Candy
Can't resist those SweeTarts and Sour Patch Kids?
Try. In a study comparing regular chewy candy, hard candy, and licorice to their sour counterparts, sour varieties were significantly harder on tooth enamel. Candy manufacturers add more acids -- or different kinds of acid -- to sour candy varieties to give them that pucker factor. And it's those "tangy" acids that can create deep craters in your tooth enamel.
Vinegar turns up in lots of places -- salad dressings, sauces, potato chips, pickles.
And each one could spell trouble for tooth enamel. In a study, teenagers who frequently consumed vinegar-containing foods had a 30%–85% increased risk of enamel erosion compared with teens who didn't consume those foods. Teens are more vulnerable to erosion because of less mature tooth enamel. But it's a good idea for people to be aware of the potential impact that vinegar can have. Vinegar is a low-fat way to add flavor, but rinse afterward to protect your teeth.
You can't always avoid enamel-eroding foods, so use these tips to minimize acid wear:
- Avoid snacking in between meals to minimize acid attacks.
- Don't swish or hold acidic beverages in your mouth. Sip them through a straw to reduce the amount of time the acids come into contact with your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with water or chew sugarless gum after meals to help neutralize acid attacks.
- Consume high-calcium milk or cheese before or with meals to help reharden enamel. Eating foods high in iron, such as liver or broccoli, may help as well.
- If you do consume acidic foods or beverages, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing. This gives softened enamel a chance to reharden, so it's less prone to damage.
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste to help fortify enamel.
- See your dentist for regular checkups and scheduled cleanings to help prevent tooth decay.