Oral Health and Nutrition

The Importance of pH Balance in the Mouth

Aug 9 • 5 minute read

Did you know that the pH level of your mouth can affect your dental health?

You might have heard that the pH level in the body affects your health. Studies have shown that lower, or acidic, pH levels are associated with a greater risk of serious health conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have also shown that higher, or alkaline, pH levels are linked to improvements in memory and cognition, reduced pain, and lower risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke.

Another interesting link is pH levels and bone health.  Extensive research has been conducted on the effects of pH on bone health, and studies have discovered that low-acid diets can help improve bone density. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, the Journal of Nutrition published a study that stated that alkaline mineral waters can decrease bone resorption and even lower parathyroid hormone levels which regulate the release of calcium from bone.

An alkaline diet is one that incorporates foods that can increase the pH levels. Interestingly, an alkaline diet is associated with an increase in growth hormone which can burn fat, improve libido, and retain a general sense of well-being.

But what does all of this have to do with our dental health?

The pH level in the mouth affects the health of our teeth and gums. And the way to control the pH is through the foods we eat. By focusing on the general health benefits of an alkaline diet, we create a ripple effect for our dental health.

Regulating the pH in the mouth will also help reduce the bacteria in our mouths, thereby reducing our risk for cavities, gum disease, and tooth decay. Bacteria feed off sugars that are commonly found in sucrose (table sugar), glucose, fructose, lactose, and cooked starches. Foods such as candies, sodas, pastas, animal proteins and breads, and even natural fruits, give bacteria in the mouth more fuel to produce lactic acid which is the acid that causes tooth decay.

An Unhealthy pH Level

Tooth decay can occur when the pH level in the mouth is 5.5. For reference, the neutral level is 7.0. When we consume acidic foods and drinks, the pH within the mouth decreases and can cause the pH in the dental plaque to fall rapidly below 5.0. This happens through the production of acids as the bacteria metabolize the ingested nutrients. When the mouth undergoes dramatic or long-lasting periods of low pH, it can cause cavity-causing bacteria to grow.

Exposure to sugar sends the pH of the dental plaque well below a healthy level. But dental plaque that is kept at 7.0 or greater does not experience a shift to cavity-causing bacteria even when exposed to sugar.

The Answer to Differences in Dental Health

Do you know someone who neglects his dental health but doesn't get cavities? Some people can consume sugars or neglect their dental health without getting cavities and other people do everything they can to prevent cavities and they end up with cavities and tooth decay. The big difference: pH levels in the mouth.

The pH in the mouth might actually explain why some people can get away with consuming a lot of sugar and carbohydrates while other people can't.

The Importance of pH Balance

Maintaining a good pH balance in the mouth allows a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria. Many of the good bacteria in our mouth are harmless and some bacteria, known as probiotics, aid in the digestion of foods. Other good bacteria actually protect our teeth and gums.

Certain foods, such as sugary beverages, snacks, and some grains, increase the acidity in the mouth. The pH of the mouth can change dramatically with the types of foods we eat. Foods that are highly acidic, like lemons, lowers the pH, while foods like melons increases the pH.

The saliva can help neutralize the acid, but eating acidic foods can increase the acidity of the saliva. If the pH takes a long time to neutralize in the mouth, it may give bad bacteria enough time to wreak havoc on the teeth and gums. Typically it may take a few minutes or a few hours for the pH to neutralize. An acidic mouth is an optimal environment for bad bacteria to grow, and if given the time and the ability, it can cause tooth decay.

How to Boost Alkalinity

To boost the alkalinity of your mouth and your body, here are six tips:

1. Add the Veggies.

Adding more vegetables to our diet is one of the most important things we can do for our health, both general and dental. Our bodies need nutrients to operate at peak performance. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are linked to many serious health conditions. Without the proper vitamins and minerals, our immune systems are weakened and do not have the ability to fight off bacteria and infections. While some vegetables are acidic, many vegetables are alkaline so they will help neutralize the pH in the mouth and the body.

Experts say the more vibrant the color, the more beneficial the veggie. Good choices include red bell peppers, kale, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, and green beans. Bad choices include any pickled vegetable, olives, lentils, corn, and winter squash.

2. Limit the Breads.

Sadly, most bread grains fall in the acidic range. Unless they are sprouted, it is best to keep consumption of breads limited. Even if you are consuming them in the sprouted form, you should limit your intake. There are, however, some healthier options. For instance, almond flour breads are a better choice because almonds are considered slightly alkaline.   

3. Eat More Beans & Seeds.

A lot of beans and seeds are alkaline. Soy, navy, and lima beans, for instance, are highly alkaline. And caraway, cumin, fennel, and sesame seeds are alkaline as well.  

4. Say No to Artificial Sweeteners.

Sugar alternatives such as honey, xylitol, and beet sugar are acidic. 

5. Avoid the Condiments, Too.

Do you like ketchup and mustard on your burgers? Sadly, those are highly acidic, too. We know we can't convince you to put a stop to the habit. But one thing that might help is to eat something that will offset the acidity. Some ideas include cantaloupe, mango, melons, apples, and carrots. Instead of eating a sweet dessert after dinner, one that will only contribute to the low pH levels in  your mouth, follow up dinner with an alkalizing fruit or veggie.

Other bad choices include mayonnaise, miso, canned vegetables, canned tuna, and peanut butter (even organic).

6. Limit Alcohol, Dairy, and Coffee.

Again, not surprisingly, wine, cheeses, and coffee are acidic as well. Are you willing to give up your morning coffee and evening wine? To help maintain a healthy pH and protect your teeth and gums from infections and decay, you may want to seriously consider at least reducing your intake of these items.

Some other surprisingly alkaline foods include egg whites, coconut, melon, and asparagus. On the flip side, surprisingly acidic foods include cranberries, fruit jelly, plums, wine, and grapefruit.

Wondering what else you can eat and what you should cut out? Here is a handy alkaline foods chart to get you started.

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