Acid attack!

  • Published
  • By Capt. Timothy Jankowski
  • 22nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron
No, "Acid Attack!" is not the name of a heavy metal band. It is the tiny war that goes on between your teeth and acidic beverages every time you take a swig of your favorite pop - or soda or coke, depending on your area of the country.

Energy drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, juices and wine are all culprits in acid erosion of the teeth.

Acid erosion is the process by which the minerals that make your teeth hard are dissolved by an acidic drink, think Alka-Seltzer in water on a smaller scale.

Over time, the loss of minerals, also known as decalcification, can cause irreversible loss of enamel. Enamel is the harder, outer layer of the tooth, and its loss can result in tooth sensitivity or increased risk of dental caries, commonly known as cavities.

Typically, this decalcification presents as a frosted white appearance of the tooth, most commonly seen just above the gum-line.

Each time you take a drink of an acidic beverage, it bathes the teeth in acid. Saliva acts to buffer, or neutralize, the acid, but it can take up to 30 minutes for the acidity to decrease to the point where decalcification stops. Every sip resets the process.

If someone were to take a sip of pop every 10-15 minutes throughout the day, the result would be a constant acidic environment in the mouth resulting in significant decalcification.

So, now that we've discussed what causes acid erosion and what effects it has, how do we prevent it?

The simplest answer is to not consume acidic beverages. Replacing them with water or milk will reduce the acidic environment and help prevent erosion.

What if you don't want to completely cut out the acidic beverages? The recommendations of most dental organizations if you do consume acidic drinks are:
  1. Try to drink them only during mealtimes.
  2. Drink them quickly rather than sipping on them over time to reduce acid contact.
  3. Don't swish them in your mouth.
  4. Drink out of a straw to prevent tooth contact as much as possible.
  5. Wait 30 minutes after drinking acidic beverages to brush your teeth, this gives the saliva time to neutralize the acid and begin to repair the decalcified enamel.
  6. Rinse with water after drinking acidic drinks.
  7. Use a fluoride mouth rinse to help re-calcify and strengthen the decalcified enamel.
Regular dental check-ups to identify decalcification and regular home oral hygiene, brushing and flossing, are also instrumental in reducing acid damage to teeth.

By following these recommendations, you can still enjoy your favorite beverage while minimizing the effects of the acidic barrage on your teeth. Hopefully this will help you to strengthen your defenses against ACID ATTACK!