Certain Candies Are as Acidic as Battery Acid on Kids’ Teeth
Peering into kids’ mouths every day, pediatric dentists have noticed an alarmingly widespread problem of late. Something is eating away at the chewing surfaces of children’s back teeth.
Turns out, its worms – gummy worms, that is – along with assorted other sweet-and-sour candies, some of which are almost as acidic as battery acid.
Initially, Dr. Robyn Loewen, a pediatric dentist in Rochester, Minn., was confused because the erosion patterns she was encountering were not consistent with damage from soda pop or other known enamel eaters.
“As a dentist and a mother, I began to suspect that sour candy was a contributing factor,” she says, “since I knew that the sour flavoring was from citric acid and other dietary acids, and my own children and their friends seemed to choose sour candy such as Skittles and Starburst over traditional sweets like chocolate and caramel.”
Confirming her suspicions, Dr. Loewen came across the research of Dr. John Ruby, Department of Pediatric Dentistry, University of Alabama, Birmingham, who measured pH levels of many types of sour candy. The extremely low pH levels, combined with frequent, prolonged sucking or chewing, equates to an aggressive, sustained attack on tooth enamel.
Dr. Kenneth Rogers, a pediatric dentist of Bright Smiles in Lakeland, states, “The amount [of acid] that is produced depends on how long the bacteria has been with the sugar. Say it takes 20 minutes to eat a bag of candy. It has a long time to produce acid and starts tapering off after the candy is gone.” He adds, “The bacteria in the mouth digests the sugar, it produces an acid and it attacks the teeth.”
Sour candies are strong enough to completely and irreversibly dissolve enamel, leading to tooth sensitivity, discoloration, and decay. Some formulations are so acidic that their labels carry warnings about potential soft-tissue irritation to the gums and inner cheeks. Children are more vulnerable to these effects than adults because their teeth are still mineralizing and hardening.
Other foods and beverages unleash an acid attack on teeth, as well. The list of offenders includes citrus juices, soda pop, sports drinks, tomato products, pickled foods, and Vitamin C tablets. Dr. Rogers suggests that “kids drink water to get the sugar off the teeth, especially if they can’t brush right away.”
Eliminating or decreasing consumption of acidic foods is the first line of defense; however, folks who can’t resist chomping the heads off sour gummy worms can lessen the effects by rinsing with water, drinking milk or eating cheese immediately afterward to neutralize the acidity. Chewing sugar-free gum also helps because it stimulates the production of saliva, which dissolves acid and protects tooth enamel.
Dr. Rogers points out, “We’re not telling kids they can’t eat candy, we’re just saying that you should control it.”
story by DAWN KLINGENSMITH and DIANNE NUTTING