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there’s a roller coaster in your mouth

"I don't see a thing about pH here..."

“I don’t see a thing about pH here…”

Click click click click click click..click…click…click…..click……click……..AHHHHHHHHH!

The sudden drop, the wind racing through your hair, the speeding around the curves and some loop the loops. You’re on a thrill ride of a lifetime! If you’re a fan of roller coasters, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most coaster fans really like the giant drop at the beginning more than any other part.

Did you know that you have a kind of roller coaster in your mouth every single day? The pH of your mouth is constantly going up and down all throughout the day.

“pH?” you say. “What’s that?”

pH is a measure of the relative acidity of an aqueous (water based) solution. In this case, it’s the moisture in your mouth. A more acid solution has a lower pH and a less acidic (alkaline) solution has a higher number. A completely neutral solution (not more acid or more alkaline) has a pH of 7. Acidic solutions are less than 7 and alkaline solutions are greater than 7.

Ideally, your mouth is at a pretty neutral pH, around 7. When you consume something that the bacteria in your mouth can eat, they will metabolize this into an acid. Have you ever noticed after eating a candy bar or something else really sweet that you get a sour taste in your mouth for awhile? “Sour” is the taste that detects acidity. When you notice that sour taste in your mouth, you should realize that there has been a drop in your mouth’s pH. If the pH in your mouth drops below the critical pH (about 5.5 or so), you are at risk for tooth enamel and dentin to start dissolving!pH graph adjust

When you draw the drop in pH against time on a graph, it looks like a very steep roller coaster. Once this roller coaster drops past a pH of 5.5, your teeth are at risk for cavities! How quickly does the roller coaster rise past that critical pH again? Well, that depends. In a healthy person with normal saliva flow it’s somewhere around 25-30 minutes. Someone with xerostomia (dry mouth) might stay below this critical pH for significantly longer. Saliva has the ability to buffer the pH in your mouth. A buffer solution keeps the pH more stable and helps to restore the pH in your mouth to a neutral level. So, if you have a healthy saliva flow, you’re at less risk for cavities due to the pH roller coaster!

So, let’s say you want to make this roller coaster ride a little more predictable and a lot less bumpy for your teeth. What should you do?

  1. avoid sweets and acidy foods: sweets and acidy foods (like pop) cause a steeper and deeper roller coaster drop. Whenever possible, avoid these foods. When you are going to eat or drink them, do it along with regular meals.
  2. avoid lots of snacking: you jump on the pH roller coaster every time you eat or drink something. The less often you do, the less time your mouth spends below the critical pH.
  3. chew sugarless gum after meals and snacks: chewing sugarless gum will stimulate saliva flow, and saliva flow can bring a low pH back up to a safe level more quickly than without.

Roller coasters in real life are a blast. The pH roller coaster that goes on in your mouth isn’t as much fun. But, you can take control with these simple rules and you’ll reduce your risk of cavities!

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If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!