Is the Acidic Environment of Your Mouth pH Causing Bad Oral Health?
Your body works hard to keep itself in balance in a dynamic process called homeostasis. A part of homeostasis is managing pH levels, a measurement of how basic or acidic a substance is. We may be familiar with the pH of water, blood pH, or even our skin, but did you know that your mouth has a particular pH level of its own?
In this article, we cover what is an oral pH level and how it affects the health of your mouth, what foods influence your mouth pH, and how to tell when pH levels in your mouth are off balance.
pH and Your Body
If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a chemistry class, let’s start things off with a brief review of what a pH level is. The term “pH” refers to the “potential of hydrogen,” a scale that measures how acidic or basic a substance is.
The pH scale ranges from 0-14, with a pH of 7 being neutral. Acidic solutions such as lemon juice have pH levels lower than 7 and basic, or alkaline, solutions such as bleach have pH levels greater than 7.
Understanding that the body constantly works to keep itself in a state of homeostasis, you may think that the body’s pH level is at a neutral 7, but it’s not. A healthy human body is slightly alkaline, with a tight pH range of 7.35 to 7.45 which is optimal for many of the body’s processes. When the body’s pH gets outside of this range, it indicates some imbalance in the body.1
Your Mouth and pH
The mouth has a slightly different pH level from other areas of the body and is between 6.7 to 7.3. Oral pH is heavily influenced by the pH of your saliva, which has an average pH of 6.7 and an overall pH range of 6.2-7.6.
Saliva does a lot of work to maintain the pH of your mouth – it gets rid of acids produced by bacteria, helps control the metabolism of sugars by oral bacteria, and helps neutralize the acidity of foods and drinks in the mouth.2
When the pH of your saliva is off balance, it can cause disruptions in your oral microbiome and increase the risk of oral health issues.
An acidic environment caters less toward beneficial microbes, and more toward harmful bacteria and their activities. A chronically low oral pH can promote damage to the oral cavity by these populations, and increase the likelihood of harmful consequences to the gums, teeth, and mouth. They can even heighten abnormal immune responses and set the oral environment up for more serious health conditions.
Low mouth pH increases mineral loss from the enamel of your teeth, while both high and low pH levels can increase the growth of bacteria that cause plaque, inflammation, and increased acid production.
The signs of when the pH levels in your mouth are off balance are pretty noticeable and include halitosis (persistent bad breath), tooth sensitivity to hot or cold beverages, and increased cavities. Long-term disruptions in oral pH can lead to gingivitis or periodontal disease.
When it comes to the health of your entire body, imbalances of the oral microbiota from pH disruption can lead to systemic health issues such as heart disease, infections, and other chronic conditions.3
Managing Your Oral pH
Balancing your mouth's pH can be as simple as being mindful of pH disruptors, the foods that you eat, and maintaining good oral health habits.
Tobacco is a known salivary pH disruptor. Research finds that tobacco in any form (chewing tobacco or smoking) decreases saliva production and decreases salivary pH, which may increase the risk of dental diseases.4
Breathing through your mouth, certain medications, and chronic health conditions that cause a dry mouth may also disrupt your oral pH.
To combat dry mouth, breathe through your nose when possible, avoid tobacco, chew sugar-free gum (such as those that contain xylitol), and stay hydrated with pH-neutral beverages like water.
The foods and beverages that you consume can also influence mouth pH.
Acidic and sugary beverages such as sodas, coffee, and other sugar-sweetened beverages can rapidly lower oral pH levels and increase the risk of dental caries.5
To avoid these pH disruptions, choose foods and beverages that are pH neutral or alkaline to help prevent your mouth from becoming too acidic. Examples of pH neutral to alkaline beverages include water and green or herbal teas.
When it comes to food, focus on alkaline foods like vegetables and even some fruits like melons and avocado. Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates like those you may find in pastries, candies, and processed grains. Certain nutritious foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits may be acidic, but you can limit the impact of their acids by eating them with alkaline foods.
If you do happen to eat or drink something acidic, make sure to wait 30 to 60 minutes after eating to brush your teeth to preserve your tooth enamel - but we also highly recommend cutting out sodas that are known to have a particularly acidic pH, and even limiting carbonated water.
Taking care of your mouth pH is more important than you think – not only does it help your enamel stay strong, but it also helps you keep the balance you need for your oral microbiome and your overall health.
1 Hopkins, E., Sanvictores, T., Sharma, S. (2022). [Physiology, acid base balance]. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine
2 Baliga, S., Muglikar, S., & Kale, R. (2013). [Saliva and biomarkers]. Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology. PubMed.gov
3 Sharma, N., Bhatia, S., Sodhi, A. S., & Batra, N. (2018). [Oral microbiome and health review]. AIMS microbiology. PubMed.gov
4 Kanwar, A., Sah, K, Gover, N., Chandra, S., Singh, R.R. (2013). [Oral health lifestyle and oral microbiome makeup]. European journal of general dentistry, Microorganisms. PubMed Central
5 Hans, R., Thomas, S., Garla, B., Dagli, R. J., & Hans, M. K. (2016). [High sugar beverages and mouth pH]. Scientifica (Cairo). PubMed.gov