Effect of Citric Acid on Tooth Enamel

Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits are tangy, nutritious and delicious. Vitamin C gives these fruits their nutritional punch and the citric acid content gives them tang and great taste. Citric acid is added to many foods and beverages because of its ability to boost flavor. It's hard to imagine that these nutritionally beneficial fruits could be detrimental in anyway. But beware -- any foods and drinks that are high in citric acid can potentially damage your teeth over time.

A glass of orange juice on a wooden table. Credit: kuponjabah/iStock/Getty Images

Erosion of Tooth Enamel

Lengthy and repeated exposure to citric acid and other acids in food and drinks causes tooth enamel to dissolve. This demineralization of the hard tooth surface is called erosion and can lead to tooth decay. When erosion has progressed into the softer, inner layer of your tooth, called the dentin, you will start to experience sensitivity and pain. Untreated erosion can eventually involve the nerve portion of your tooth resulting in the need for root canal treatment.

Risky Acidic Foods

Citrus fruits have a high concentration of citric acid as well as other fruits, fruit juices, and fruit products. Other acidic foods include pickled vegetables and foods that are fermented, such as wine and yogurt. Candies, sports drinks, canned ice teas, herbal teas and sodas commonly have added citric acid, as well as other acids that are harmful to tooth enamel. Carbonated sodas -- both regular and diet varieties -- have higher levels of acids and can be more harmful to your teeth than non-carbonated drinks. Because various acids are frequently added to food products to improve the taste, reading the food label may be the best way to determine the acid content.

Effects of Sugar and Acid Together

Carbonated sodas, energy drinks and sweetened ice teas have high concentrations of both sugars and acids, including citric acid. These drinks set up the perfect storm. Sugars from the sodas are sticky and adhere to your tooth surface as plaque. The bacteria in your mouth use these sugars in the plaque to produce acids. In addition, your teeth are exposed to the acids found in the drinks. If two sources of acids are not bad enough, the harmful effects of these acids on your teeth are significantly intensified if you have dry mouth or are very thirsty.

Reducing the Effects of Citric Acid

Limiting sodas and other acidic foods is recommended to avoid erosion, but there are a few other safeguards you can follow. Dentists advise regularly using toothpaste containing fluoride to strengthen and add hardness to your tooth enamel. Drinking acidic beverages through a straw positioned toward the back of your mouth can help reduce the risk of erosion by limiting the exposure of your teeth to the acid. However, your back teeth are still exposed. Rinsing with water for 30 seconds after eating or drinking helps wash away residual acid. Chewing sugarless gum after eating to stimulate saliva can also help neutralize the effects of acids in your mouth. Drinking acidic drinks during a meal rather than by themselves is less damaging to your enamel. And, it is better to drink a whole drink at one time rather than constant sipping.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Load Comments

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use , Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy . The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.