The human mouth is in many ways unique in its biological makeup. The teeth, for example, are one of the few body structures that are not constantly shedding their outer surface. This gives bacteria a chance to adhere indefinitely, forming plaque. These colonies of bacteria that make up dental plaque metabolize sugars, creating acid as a byproduct.
Research has shown that the pH, or the measure of acidity, in the mouth can help determine the health of the oral tissues. A low, or acidic, pH demineralizes, or softens, the outer surfaces of the teeth, leading to tooth decay and cavities. An acidic pH also affects the gum tissues, leading to gingivitis and, ultimately, periodontitis, or gum disease.
The take-home lesson here is to try to maintain a healthy, or neutral, pH level in your mouth. Limit foods and drinks that are acidic, such as sodas, citrus juices, and sports drinks. Sugary foods are converted to acid and, therefore, cause a drop in salivary pH, as well. Rinsing with water or chewing gum after meals to stimulate saliva will help buffer, or neutralize, oral pH. And, of course, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste as soon as possible after eating will help remove the plaque that is the source of the problem.
Something to think about as you reach for that soda or Gatorade to cool you down this summer.