Oral pH. Dental pH. It’s very technical sounding, and not something we grow up thinking about. You may have heard people talking about pH and wondered to yourself if their talk applies to you. You may also find yourself wondering exactly what pH is and what it really means. Well, if you’re looking for answers to some basic questions about pH and your oral health, the good news is that the basics aren’t too technical, and you can easily leverage what we know about pH to improve your oral health.
What does it mean when people talk about pH balance or something being acidic?
Very simply, pH is a scale used in chemistry that measures how many hydrogen ions are in a solution that contains water. The scale starts at 0 and goes up to 14. In the middle of the scale, at 7, pH is neutral. The lower the pH, the more acidic it is — the higher the pH, the more alkaline (basic) the solution. In most cases, when we talk about pH balance, we’re talking about keeping things near the middle, neutral section of the pH scale.
What pH is dangerous to my oral health?
A healthy mouth is near neutral or higher. Acid conditions in the mouth put your enamel at risk of dental caries. Starting near a pH of 5.5, the minerals that make tooth enamel strong and healthy start to dissolve out of the enamel, leaving it weakened and susceptible to bacterial attack. The bacteria that are associated with cavities thrive in acidic conditions, and they make more acid as a byproduct of digesting the sugars they find in our mouths from the food we eat. The lower the pH goes and the longer the pH stays low and acidic, the greater the risk to the health of our tooth enamel.
How can I restore a healthy oral pH?
Saliva is your body’s natural defense mechanism against acid attacks. The best way to allow your saliva to do its job is to give it time to work, which means not eating between meals. Every time you eat, your oral pH drops into the acidic range, dissolving minerals out of the enamel surface. Foregoing snacks allows your saliva the time to raise the pH back to healthy levels and let the dissolved minerals redeposit into the enamel surface. Xylitol-containing chewing gum also has been shown to help keep oral pH high. For long term oral pH problems, consider adding a high pH oral rinse to help you achieve a healthy balance.
Is it bad to brush my teeth while my mouth is acidic?
Some recent studies have looked at this question. It appears that brushing your teeth immediately after eating while the conditions in your mouth are at peak acid levels can do some harm. The dissolved minerals can be brushed away, and the weakened surface is more susceptible to damage from vigorous brushing. It’s better for your enamel health to wait to brush until pH levels have started to rise, and to rinse with plain water immediately after eating if you want to remove loose food particles and support a healthy pH rise.