When deciding what to cook for dinner, priorities typically are cost, preparation time and effort, taste and calories for the weight-wise people, while some will focus in on organic ingredients. Another factor well worth considering is the food’s level of pH. Because low-level pH foods cannot only negatively affect your general health, it can quite literally rot your teeth.
Keeping pH balanced in the mouth is not just good for teeth, it is also essential for good general health. Here’s a helpful explanation on what this is and what you can do.
What is pH?
First, we should note that pH is a scientific term that refers to the amount of acidity in a liquid substance, like water, or to stay on topic, your saliva. When describing the chemical level of acidity versus alkalinity of any substance, pH and an Arabic numeral are used on a scale of 0 to 14. Zero is the most acidic, while 14 is the most alkaline. Seven is the perfect balance of the two ends of the spectrum and is the pH level for pure water.
Examples of everyday substances that fall below pH7, and thus are acidic, include black coffee, vinegar and therefore wine, as well as battery acid, which is at the far end of the scale at pH0. Typical alkaline substances that test above pH7 include seawater, antacids and household bleach. Remembering that pH7 is the middle of the scale, it is interesting to note that healthy human blood has a pH just above 7, just a little on the alkaline side.
What is pH Balance & Why is it Important?
Remembering that pure water has a pH of 7, consider for a moment that the adult human body is roughly 60 percent water. In fact, the brain and heart are 73 percent water, muscles are 79 percent and bones, similar in make-up to teeth, are 31 percent.
It is therefore no surprise the human body requires a properly balanced pH close to water to live. The human kidneys’ function is not only to filter out impurities from the cardiovascular system, but also to maintain the right balance of acid versus alkaline in the blood to maintain a pH level of 7.4.
When there is too much acid in the blood and a low pH level a metabolic acidosis occurs. This condition will hinder the natural chemical processes that allow the human body to function properly. When the body cannot function properly, humans develop chronic health conditions. Carrying too much acid in the blood is commonly associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney disease, an overwhelming infection, severe diarrhea and laxative abuse.
On the other hand, when there is too much alkaline in the blood, a high pH level, a person is suffering from metabolic alkalosis. Metabolic alkalosis is attributed to alcohol abuse, adrenal disease, excess vomiting, abuse of diuretics and again laxative abuse.
How does pH relate to Teeth and Gums?
Think of the human mouth as a watery ecosystem that, like the rest of the body, requires a balanced pH that is ever so slightly alkaline. As it turns out, your mouth pH has a significant impact on your oral health, and consequently your overall health.
What is the pH of Saliva?
The big question of the day is this – is saliva acidic? For healthy humans, the normal pH of saliva is 7.4, just like blood. When acidic foods and beverages are consumed, the pH is tipped, creating an imbalance that demineralizes tooth enamel. This happens when the pH levels in the mouth drop below 5.5.
How Mouth & Saliva pH affects Dental Health
When teeth experience demineralization, this erosion causes a thinning of the enamel, exposing the dentin. Dentin is bone-like, but it contains microscopic tubules that lead right to the pulp, where the nerves are. If tooth enamel is eroded, consuming hot, cold, or sugary drinks can become quite painful.
Of note, many people with chronic health conditions, like acid reflux, struggle to maintain the pH balance in their mouths. That’s why we often see conditions like acid reflux destroying teeth.
Symptoms of Acidic/Unbalanced Saliva pH Levels
Are you worried about your saliva pH level now? Don’t worry too much! There are some telltale signs of unbalanced pH. Whether you have too much acid in your mouth or your saliva pH levels are trending toward the alkaline side, your mouth will give you some warning signs.
- Have you been struggling with bad breath a lot recently? It could be due to unbalanced pH of mouth.
- Another telltale sign is sensitivity to hot and cold.
- Believe it or not, cavities can alert you to unbalanced pH because too much acid or alkalinity can lead to tooth erosion.
How to Find the pH of Your Saliva
It’s easy enough to check the pH levels of your mouth and saliva. You can purchase a testing kit either online or at a local drug store. The kit contains a pH testing strip and the only other thing you need is your saliva.
- Make sure you do not eat or drink anything for at least two hours before you take the test.
- First, let your saliva pool in your mouth and then spit or swallow it.
- Take a few minutes to fill your mouth with saliva once more. Put a small amount of your saliva on the pH test strip.
- The strip should change colors within a few minutes and you can then match it up to the color chart that came with your test kit.
How to Rebalance the pH of Your Mouth
If you struggle with the pH balance of your mouth, it’s good to know how to reduce acidity in the mouth, or alkalinity in some cases. A good place to start is with your diet, but keep in mind that only eating or drinking mid-range pH foods and beverages can deprive our bodies of essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, a diet like that is rather boring and difficult to maintain long-term. However, a pH balance can be struck and tooth enamel protected if habits on how and when certain foods and beverages are consumed are considered.
Acidic Foods to Avoid
Notice that when one drinks soft drinks (pH 3) or white wine (pH 4) it feels like there are socks on the teeth, or they feel fuzzy. That is because the pH in the mouth is not balanced. It is acidic, causing demineralization of the enamel.
Surprisingly, according to the Food and Drug Administration, some vegetables can be acidic, like green cabbage (pH 5.5) and particular cheeses too, like American cheese (pH 4.98). Cherries are particularly acidic as they register at pH 4 raw, and worse pH 3.32 when frozen. Check out this comprehensive FDA food list here.
While it is not nearly as widely publicized, researchers in Sweden have found that exposure to alkaline substances can also erode enamel and cause cavities. The study from Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg found that people working with reconditioning automobiles and in the food industry, who use alkaline degreasers had more cavities than compared to the rest of the population. The pH levels were not readily available in the English version of the study’s press release.
- If a sugary soft drink cannot be avoided, do not sip it over an extended period of time. Drink it down in one go or quickly. Follow up with some water to not only wash away the sugar, but to restore pH balance.
- Do not brush teeth immediately after drinking a soft drink, wine, cider, beer or fruit juices. Because the enamel is already softened by the acidity, toothbrush bristles will literally brush off enamel, thinning that protective layer surrounding the dentin.
- If at all possible, when drinking coffee use a form of milk, not a sugary flavored creamer, to counteract the acidity.
- Balance the acidic ingredients of meal courses with more alkaline ingredients. Examples are sweet corn (pH 7.3), rice (pH 6.8), or shrimp (pH 7).
- Finishing a meal with particular cheeses can also rebalance pH levels. Best suggestion here is Camembert (pH 7.5).
- After a meal or an acidic drink, chew sugarless gum, and if possible it is best if it contains xylitol. The action of chewing gum encourages the mouth to make saliva, which over time will restore pH balance. Xylitol is believed to not only induce saliva production, but also prevent bacteria from clinging to tooth enamel. Xylitol is also used to treat dry mouth.
- Drink lots of water (pH 7).
There are a lot of websites out there that proclaim this food, or that beverage is alkaline or acidic. The best guide that lays it out straight is the FDA’s list, because it is their job to know this, inform the public and not sell a particular food or food product.
Saliva pH as a Health Diagnostic Tool
We mentioned the issue of acid reflux teeth and how the condition can lead to erosion of your teeth. Acid reflux is not the only chronic condition linked to unbalanced mouth pH. Assessing your pH levels can give you clues to the severity of some oral conditions, like gum disease, as well as chronic general health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease.
If you feel that you are having trouble balancing the pH in your mouth, it could be the sign of a more serious dental or medical condition. Contact us, and set up an appointment for a consultation so that we may together find the true cause and make a plan to address it.
We offer affordable dentistry with convenient hours at over 70 dental office locations throughout Texas, including DFW, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio! Book your appointment at Jefferson Dental & Orthodontics today to see your dentist, hygienist or orthodontist! No Insurance? No Problem! Signup for our Dental Savings Plan today!