When you are at home with nothing to do, something that we commonly do is turn to the fridge for a snack. We are all guilty of this!
Maybe even when you are studying or working, you have a stash of goodies tucked in the drawer, just to help keep yourself going and have something to graze on while you work away.
But have you ever stopped to consider how snacking could be damaging your teeth?
But it is not just snacking. Like we just said, some people graze, or they eat small meals more frequently, rather than having main meals. Alternatively, some people continuously sip away on drinks, such as soft drinks and juice (water excluded, though, because that’s okay) during the day.
So, whether it is snacking, grazing, or sipping, the consequences are the same.
Now you may be thinking — but why, or how?
That is why the Boutique Dental Care team decided to write this article.
We wanted to talk about how the frequency of food and beverages can affect your dental health. To find out more, we will start by exploring the pH balance of our mouth, the early decay process, and how the frequency of consumption affects the mouth, increasing your risk of dental decay and dental erosion.
Plus, we will also give you our favourite tips to help you protect your teeth and your smile!
How can the frequency of food and drinks affect your oral health?
Most people think it is because the food we eat leaves particles and debris in our mouths, which then act as food for the decay-causing bacteria. However, it is more complex than this.
It has to do with the pH balance of your mouth and a process known as remineralisation.
So, let’s talk about pH
pH refers to a scale used to determine how acidic or alkaline something is.1 For example something that has a pH below 7 is acidic, like lemon juice which is 5.5. While something above 7, such as antacids, is more alkaline. And 7 on the scale can be thought of as neutral, which is like pure water.1
So, when it comes to testing the pH of mouth, we test our saliva – which should generally be between 6.2 to 7.6 on the pH scale.1,2
Now when we eat and drink, it changes the pH of our mouth by making it more acidic, falling below 6.2.3 And when our mouths become acidic, it can cause damage to our teeth through a process known as demineralisation!1,2
Now you may be thinking, “Hang on, I thought earlier you said remineralisation and now you are saying demineralisation?” So, let’s look at how that works.
Demineralisation versus remineralisation:
When the pH of our mouth drops, it becomes more acidic. And when that happens, it can start to damage our teeth through a process called demineralisation.
Demineralisation means that minerals are being lost from the outer surface of our teeth, known as the enamel.4,5 Unfortunately, this is stage one of the decay process.4
However, through a process known as remineralisation, this process can be stopped or reversed.4-6 This happens thanks to our saliva and its ability to carry calcium and phosphate ions to replace the lost minerals.2,4,6
So, how does this all come together and relate to snacking?
Simply put, for remineralisation to occur, there needs to be time between acid attacks!
If our teeth are continuously being exposed to acids, through the foods we eat and drink, then our saliva does not have a chance to remineralise and replace the lost minerals.4,5 And when you think about snacking, grazing, and sipping, it means that we are constantly exposing our mouths to acids.
When the pH of our mouths is lowered, it also helps create the perfect environment for decay-causing bacteria to thrive.4
So as a quick summary:
Teeth + Food/Drinks = Acids
Acids = start of decay process through demineralisation.
Demineralisation can be stopped or reversed
if the tooth is given a chance to remineralise.
Remineralisation can only happen when there is enough
time between acid attacks and in the right conditions.
What dental diseases can it cause?
The two main dental diseases are dental decay and dental erosion.
Dental decay happens when the decay-causing bacteria, which live in our mouth, break down the enamel layer of the tooth and start to cause damage to the inside layers of our teeth.4 When this happens, the tooth can no longer remineralise or repair itself and a filling may be required.
Dental erosion is a dental condition which can happen when we consume highly acidic foods and drinks frequently.7 It is characterised by the loss of the tooth’s enamel, potentially exposing the layers underneath the enamel.7 And unfortunately, once the enamel is worn away or lost, it cannot be remineralised.
Who is at risk?
At Boutique Dental Care, we think that everyone is at risk of the damaging effects of frequent food and drink consumption. It is a widespread issue.
It is also an issue that people don’t commonly think about
when trying to understand how they got a hole (decay) in their tooth.
However, at Boutique Dental Care, there are few people whom we find tend to be at higher risk.
These people include:
- Office workers or students who have a ‘snack stash’ at their desk
- Retirees who enjoy a biscuit with their tea and coffee
- Athletes who regularly eat to keep their energy levels up
- Night-shift workers, who regularly consume sweets or chocolates to keep them awake while they work
- People who chew or suck on sugar-containing mints and gum.
How do you know if you are at risk?
At Boutique Dental Care, we think the best way for someone to identify their risk is by stopping to look at your own habits. And a very helpful way to do this to write a food diary.
A food diary can help you keep track of your eating and drinking habits. It makes it easy to identify if you are someone who commonly snacks, grazes, or sips on things when they shouldn’t be. It also helps to give insight into the types of foods and drinks that you are consuming, which could be further increasing your risk of dental decay.
If after completing your food diary you are still unsure, then have your food diary reviewed by your dental professional. They will be able to go through it with you more thoroughly.
At Boutique Dental Care, if we see that someone has a sudden increase in the number of new holes (decay), a food diary is often one of the first things that we recommend they do! And often they are very surprised to see the results.
How can you protect your teeth?
It is simple… limit snacking! This means trying to stick to regular mealtimes.
However, if you do snack or graze, at Boutique Dental Care, we also recommend that you:
- Rinse well with water afterward
- Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate your saliva and clear food debris
- Choose tooth-friendly foods, like cheese or nuts
- Practice good oral hygiene habits – brushing at least twice a day, cleaning in between your teeth are least daily, and using a fluoride-containing toothpaste
- Keep a food diary to track your habits.
Your oral health professional may also recommend or prescribe other products for you to further help reduce your risk of decay. Ask them next time you are in or make an appointment with them.
And don’t forget that you can take your food diary along to your appointment, so that your oral health professional can have a look at your risk factors for dental decay with you!
But what if you like sipping on sugary and acidic drinks?
If this is you, then the first thing at Boutique Dental Care that we recommend is to break this habit!
This means only having them with your meals, and ideally through a straw to limit contact with the teeth and mouth.
Instead, stick to sipping on plain water – and NO adding cordial, cucumber or lemon wedges. It must be plain old water!
The next time you go to sip that bottle of soft drink, or get up to turn to the fridge or pantry for something to eat, or reach into the drawer next to you for your stash of snacks, then STOP! Stop and think about the consequences that it may be having to your teeth and your dental health.
At Boutique Dental Care, we like to focus on prevention and by limiting habits like
snacking, grazing and sipping. This can dramatically reduce your risk of dental disease.
If you have any questions or concerns, don’t forget that we are always here to help!
Please do not hesitate to contact us at (02) 9054 5281 or via email at email@example.com to arrange an appointment with one of our friendly dentists.
Thank you for reading this article.
If you enjoyed, it then please share it with your family and friends.
And remember to check back as we regularly update our blog to help
share our dental knowledge with you!
- Frothingham S. What is the pH of saliva?. 2018. URL:‘https://www.healthline.com/health/ph-of-saliva#ph-of-saliva’. Accessed March 2020.
- Furgeson D, Pitts E. Saliva’s Role in Remineralization. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. 2018;16;5:26,28-29.
- Hans R, Thomas S, Garka B, Dagli R J, Hans M K. Effects of carious sugary beverages on salivary pH, flow rate and oral clearance rate amongst adults. Scientifica;2016;5027283. Doi
- Featherstone JDB. Dental caries: a dynamic disease process. Australian Dent Journal 2008;53:286-291. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1834-7819.2008.00064.x
- Marsh PD. Dentalplaque as a biofil, and a microbial community – implications for health and disease. BMC Oral Health. 2006;6(1):S14
- Dodds M, Roland S, Edgar M, et al. Saliva A review of its role in maintaining oral health and preventing dental disease. BDJ Team 2, 15123 (2015) doi:10.1038/bdjteam.2015.123
- Australian Dental Association. 2010. [Brochure]. Erosion. Edn 1.