[By Dr. Broc Brimhall]
Anchorage loves its coffee. At last count, the city ranked second in the nation for coffee consumption, with an average of 1 coffee shop for every 1,725 residents. And while coffee is a great morning pick-me-up, especially during our long, dark and snowy winters, it’s not doing your teeth any favors.
We all know coffee is notorious for leaving your teeth less than pearly white. But that morning cup o’ joe from your favorite roadside kiosk may also be causing cavities – and not just because of all the sugary syrups mixed in.
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Coffee and dry mouth
Dry mouth is caused, unsurprisingly, by a lack of saliva in your mouth. There are many reasons for dry mouth – smoking, certain medications, medical conditions and even stress can lead to a decrease in saliva production. Another one of those reasons? Coffee. Specifically, the caffeine in coffee.
But how does dry mouth and coffee lead to cavities? Because saliva is the first line of defense in cavity protection.
Saliva, a cavity-fighting superstar
Sugars found in the food we eat cling to our teeth. If left to linger due to inadequate or infrequent brushing, that sugar combines with naturally occurring bacteria in our mouth to create an acid. The acid then eats away at the minerals in the tooth’s enamel, leading to decay.
Saliva helps fight off that acid (and all along you thought it was just for spitting). Saliva contains minerals – bicarbonate, calcium and phosphate – that not only neutralize and reduce the amount of acid, but can repair early damage to the enamel and prevent tooth decay as well.
While we are not asking you to give up that morning (and late morning, and afternoon) cup of coffee, as we know you need it, we have practical tips to decrease the risk of tooth decay and cavities from dry mouth.
Scheduling a dental exam and cleaning is the best way to protect your teeth from the dangers of tooth decay and cavities. Regular visits allow us to catch and treat problems before they can turn into major issues. In between visits, in addition to maintaining a good oral hygiene regimen that includes brushing a minimum of twice a day and flossing, try one of the following:
- Chew, chew, chew. Chewing a sugarless gum such as Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in fibrous plants like corn cobs, can help prevent cavities. Chewing Xylitol increases saliva production ten-fold, and chewing for just 20 minutes after eating or drinking reduces the risk of tooth decay by up to 40%. It also makes saliva more alkaline, which helps it more easily get into the enamel and fight decay. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth, giving you more time to brush it away.
- Say no to cream and sugar. Try drinking coffee black. Yes, you still risk the caffeine causing dry mouth, but without all the sugar found in lattes and Frappuccino’s, there’s nothing for the bacteria to feed on, which decreases the amount of acid formed in your mouth. But if you just can’t resist that hazelnut, don’t nurse it – the longer you sip, the longer the bacteria can grow and eat its way through your tooth’s enamel.
- Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of water – if you can, try to drink a glass after each cup of coffee. Not only will it help combat dry mouth, but water neutralizes the acid in your mouth and prevents it from attacking your teeth.
- Switch toothpastes. A mineralizing toothpaste may help rebuild tooth enamel by replacing minerals lost to early decay. You can find one wherever you buy toothpaste.
Depending on your specific needs, we can discuss other cavity prevention options as well.
The Next Steps
To take action now, book an appointment today. We accept most forms of insurance and are in-network with the following providers:
- Premera // BlueCross/BlueShield
- Denali Kid Care // Medicaid
- Delta Dental
- Washington Dental
Don’t let your coffee habit lead to anything more than a case of the jitters. Use the form below or give us a call to schedule an exam & cleaning today.
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