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The way you drink your coffee could be hurting your teeth. A dentist offers 3 tips to better protect your smile

woman drinking coffee
Is your favorite drink damaging your teeth?
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By now you’re more than likely aware of how coffee can stain your teeth, but can it cause cavities, too? According to a viral tweet, which features a screenshot from a TikTok post, a dentist warns viewers about the perils of drinking coffee for too long. 

“If you look at it from the chemistry aspect, then technically, yes, coffee could cause cavities if you were sipping on your coffee and it was sitting on your teeth for about 30 minutes,” says Dr. Tyler Hales of Facer Hales Parker Dentistry in California. “But that’s not a high probability that we’re seeing. Otherwise cavities would be rampant today because of the amount of coffee people drink.”

While an acidic environment can cause teeth’s enamel to become softer and wear out, your body naturally does a good job of neutralizing the acidity from coffee with saliva, which has a pH of about seven to eight. A pH scale ranges from zero, which means it’s extremely acidic, to 14, which is very basic.

“When you drink your coffee, it’s better to drink it quicker than slower simply because the longer the coffee is on your teeth, the more of an acidic environment it’s causing,” Hales explains. “It’s very uncommon that coffee is causing the acidic environment in the mouth to lower the pH level very much, but there are things you can do to help that or to help prevent that.”

Below, Hales shares three ways to protect your teeth while drinking coffee:

Drink your coffee with a straw. Instead of having the coffee directly hit your teeth, using a straw helps the coffee (and its acidity) bypass your teeth altogether. A straw can also help prevent stains to your teeth.

Chase your coffee with water. Like saliva, water has a neutral pH of seven, which means it’s neither acidic nor basic.

Chew sugar-free gum after drinking your coffee. “What sugar-free gum does is it actually activates the salivary glands,” explains Hales. “So the more saliva you have, the more your body is neutralizing that environment.” You can also eat fruits such as apples or bananas to combat the coffee’s acidity, but avoid acidic fruits such as oranges and grapefruits. 

While you may be tempted to reach for your toothbrush after drinking coffee, Hales recommends waiting at least five to 10 minutes. “That acidic environment is going to soften that enamel, so if you brush immediately after drinking coffee you could cause more damage,” he says.

Instead, Hales advises neutralizing the coffee with either water or fruit and then brushing. The same rule of thumb applies to other caffeinated beverages, such as tea, soda, and energy drinks.

“Try and prevent the amount of time the drink is on the teeth, use straws, and then neutralize the environment afterward,” he says.

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