Woman holding a magnifying glass in front of teeth

More than 1 in 4 American adults have untreated tooth decay and almost half of adults 30 or older show signs of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For June’s Oral Health month, a dentist at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry explains how to keep your mouth pH balanced, which helps to keep your teeth and gums healthy. 

Dental issues can arise because of bad bacteria in the mouth. Steven Powell, DDS, a general dentist at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, says the lack of a proper acid/alkaline balance within a patient’s mouth — also known as pH balance — can enable bad bacteria to thrive. Powell says the golden number for pH in your mouth should be 5.6 or above to help protect your gums and teeth (the neutral pH of water is 7).  

Unfortunately, every time healthy patients eat, drink or put anything in their mouths other than water, the pH level drops, affecting the minerals in the patient’s teeth. Minerals will leave the teeth until the pH level returns to 5.6. Once the pH level reaches 5.6, the minerals will return to the patient’s teeth. When minerals are depleted, a patient’s teeth are vulnerable to damage caused by bacteria. That is why Powell encourages patients to maintain their oral pH balance. 

“A balanced mouth is really the key to preventing cavities and improving oral health,” Powell says. “Teeth are like bones, constantly building up and tearing down through a dynamic physiologic process. Loss of minerals in bone can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis. Loss of minerals in teeth can lead to tooth decay. If you want bad bacteria to stop wreaking havoc in your mouth, create an environment where minerals remain in your teeth.” 

Here are Powell’s easy tips to keeping your mouth healthy:

  1. Stop snacking and sipping. After you consume something other than water, it takes 10 minutes and often longer for your mouth to return to a proper pH level. Powell says it is this time that leaves teeth vulnerable. He understands that it may be impossible to completely limit snacking and sipping, but he encourages patients to try to limit the frequency of both and to apply techniques that raise the pH as soon as possible.
  2. Make sure your dental maintenance behaviors help offset any poor habits. Daily effective removal of bad bacteria will help counteract bad dietary habits. If you do choose to continue to snack and sip, make sure you are using proper dental hygiene to reduce the population of bad bacteria. Dental brushes, floss and picks are examples of very effective tools.
  3. Chew sugar-free gum. Another neat trick to balancing out bad habits is immediately after consuming a beverage or food in its entirety, follow it up with sugar-free gum or gum that contains a plant-based sugar called xylitol. It will increase saliva production, which is the strongest natural way to raise a low pH.
  4. Make sure your water has the proper pH. Another technique to promote pH balance is swishing water in your mouth after beverage or food consumption. This is particularly helpful after eating sticky foods. Just make sure your water has the proper pH balance. Some commercial water is below 5.6..

Powell and other dentists at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry are happy to coach you in proper oral health by partnering with you for dental care. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please visit the clinic’s website or call 909-558-4960.