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World Oral Health Day: Highly-acidic pickles and salsa dips hurt your teeth, have lentil & broccoli to counter effect

Acid deterioration may lead to serious dental problems.

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Last Updated: Mar 20, 2020, 04.30 PM IST
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Whole grains such as millet are considered low-acid foods which also have lots of health benefits.
By Dr Rajiv Chugh

'You are what you eat'

We all know eating greens, fresh vegetable and fruits are healthy for our overall well-being. Despite a balanced diet, have you ever experienced acidity, sudden sharp discomfort in a tooth, tooth discolouration? Wondering what causes it? Some food items that come under the 'healthy' spectrum might be doing more harm than good. Understanding the pH value of foods and whether its acidic, neutral or alkaline gives us a more in-depth understanding of how it impacts the tooth and our overall health.

What is the acidity of food?
The pH value measures if the food is acid, base or neutral. The lower the pH level, the more acidic the food is. And, food with higher pH level are alkaline. Different foods have different pH levels.
- Neutral pH is 7
- Acidic food items have pH less than 7
- Alkaline food items have pH more than 7 up to 14

For example: Pure distilled water is neutral at 7. It’s neither acidic nor alkaline. Vinegar is extremely acidic at pH 2, while most greens are highly alkaline at pH 10. The ideal blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45. The stomach acid is typically at a pH of 1.5 to 3.5 depending on the meal an individual has had or has been empty stomach, which helps in the digestion process by breaking down the food properly. The foods with a pH level lower than 4.6 are considered highly acidic.

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Neutralise the acidity of foods by combining them with alkaline foods.

Highly-acidic foods:
For many of us, the morning won’t start without our daily dose of coffee. Indian warm climate for a significant part of the year creates a substantial demand for soft drinks and packaged juice. Some might think having sports drinks is revitalising the energy and making themselves fitter. Some highly acidic foods are coffee, alcohol, cold drinks, sodas, aerated drinks, sports drinks and juices.

While Vitamin C is very good for health, many fruits rich in this vitamin are high on citric acid, which weakens the tooth enamel. Some such highly acidic fruits are oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, pickles, cranberries, pomegranate, grapes, tomato products (like ketchup, salsa dips, pasta sauce), among others. Substituting these foods with less acidic or neutralising the acidity of these foods by combining its consumption with alkaline foods usually does the trick.

Which foods are neutral or low-acidic:
Vegetables, especially fresh veggies like broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, mushroom, corn and potatoes, are generally more on the neutral spectrum, and are not considered acidic.

There are many fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew melon, mangoes, kiwi, strawberries, bananas and apples that are rich in Vitamin C and relatively less acidic.

Beans, lentils, herbal teas, quinoa, avocados, nuts, and seeds, soybeans, tofu, milk, fats like olive oil, and whole grains such as millet are all considered low acid foods with lots of health benefits.

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Finish the meal with milk which is high in calcium and negates the acidity in the mouth.

Fish and lean meats also have low levels of acid. These foods are twice as beneficial as they protect your tooth enamel. They do this by off-setting acids in saliva, and they are rich in calcium and phosphorus. Hence, they replenish these minerals needed for stronger and healthier teeth. They are naturally occurring re-mineraliser.

The other alternate is re-mineralising toothpaste, especially designed to prevent and slow enamel erosion due to acidic exposure, and also repair the tooth to some extent by re-mineralising the damaged or eroded enamel. The formulae of these kinds of toothpaste also give relief to a degree from nerve irritability and sensitivity.

What happens when you eat highly-acidic foods?
Acid deterioration may lead to serious dental problems. It is essential to notice these signs in its initial stages before severe and irreversible damage occur such as cracks, decay, nerve irritability and pain.

Eating highly acidic foods can damage the tooth’s outer protective cover called tooth enamel and recede the gum line. This demineralisation process exposes the inner layer of the tooth called dentine. Under the dentine is tooth pulp which contains nerves and blood vessels. The nerve is highly sensitive to stimulation when exposed. Damaged and eroded enamel exposes dentine and nerve to foods and beverage which are very hot or cold, highly-acidic, sugary and starchy which irritates the nerves inside the tooth. This can lead to sharp and painful tooth sensitivity and also decay and cavities. High-acidic foods and drinks are the biggest culprits causing enamel erosion leading to tooth sensitivity.

Some of the effects of eating highly-acidic foods on the tooth are:
Sensitivity: Sensation in the tooth while consuming hot or cold foods is called sensitivity. Acidic foods cause erosion of enamel which exposes the dentine of the tooth underneath and causes nerve irritability. If not looked into the sensitivity, it can become severe and may cause a pang of ache even when breathing in cold air.

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Brushing right after a meal can damage teeth more than helping.

Discolouration: The acidic foods wears off the transparent enamel exposing yellowish Dentine, causing discolouration of tooth. Certain acidic foods like coffee can stain the enamel and cause discolouration too.

Rounded teeth: Edges are the first part of the tooth to come in contact with the acidic foods. This may cause most damage near the edges of the tooth causing rounded edges or flat looking teeth.

Transparency: The higher the acidic content of the foods, the more the enamel weakens causing the tooth to appear translucent near the edges.

Cracks and chips: Small cracks may appear at the edges of teeth and at times if the cracks are a severe chip of the tooth might break, this is the sign to book an appointment with a dentist and get necessary treatment before the nerve of the tooth dies, and you might have to lose the tooth altogether.

Cupping: The edges of the teeth becomes rough, sharp, irregular and small indents may appear on the chewing surface of the teeth.

PREVENTION
Prevention is better than cure. Once an adult loses the tooth, we have to bid it adieu forever. Unlike bones, our body cannot regrow the tooth. By implementing preventive measures, we can ensure longer and healthier life of our pearly whites.

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Beans, lentils, herbal teas, quinoa, avocados, nuts, and seeds, soybeans, tofu, milk, and fats like olive oil are low-acidic foods.

Choose correct toothpaste
Using a specialised toothpaste designed for tooth sensitivity can restore the already affected enamel to some extent preventing further damage. Brushing right after a meal can damage teeth more than helping. Avoid brushing for at least half an hour after eating.

Visit the dentist
Visiting dentist twice a year for a routine checkup can avoid lots of dental problems before they become irreversible. Acid erosion on the enamel if treated promptly, can avert many dental issues caused by enamel erosion. A dentist can recognise symptoms and prevent further damage in case of severe discomfort.

Hydrate
Drink plenty of water. Besides, being suitable for your overall health water prevent dry mouth and ensures enough saliva is produced. Saliva composes of calcium, phosphate and fluoride that can cleanse the mouth of the acids preventing decay.

Eat right
Eating right, to begin with, is the first and most significant step towards healthier teeth. Small changes in eating habits can go a long way. It is challenging to avoid acidic foods altogether, but mixing acidic foods with alkaline can help. Finish the meal with milk which is high in calcium and negates the acidity in the mouth. Substitute fruits high in citric acid with other vitamin-rich fruits.

Eat right, smile bright!

(The author is Member, Dental Council of India, Secretary General, ICD India, Sri Lanka & Nepal Section & Vice President, Indian Endodontic Society)

World Oral Health Day: Sensitive Teeth, Bad Breath? Expert Tips To Ensure A Bright Smile

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We often miss out on taking the best care of our pearly whites, making them vulnerable to plaque, cavity, etc. One must ensure incorporating good oral habits in daily routine for healthy and sparkling teeth.On World Oral Health Day, Dr A Kumarswamy, MDS, Periodontist & Implantologist, and Dr Mahesh Verma, Director - Principal Maulana Azad Institute of Dental Sciences & former President of Indian Dental Association share tips to keep your teeth healthy.
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(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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