When is Drinking 4 Cups of Coffee Better for your Teeth than 1?

When we were kids, we were told that candy or sugar causes cavities. While not incorrect, this explanation falls short of the true explanation and understanding of what really causes cavities.

It’s the sugar (the carbohydrates) from the candy that feed the bacteria in our mouth and they, in turn, release acidic by-products. So it is not the candy itself causing the cavities but the acidic by-products of bacteria feasting on the sugar from the candy. But it’s not just sugary candy or soda; it’s other forms of carbohydrates, like fruit, pasta or rice.

Acids, whether from the activity of bacteria or from directly ingesting acidic foods (like oranges) and drinks (like coffee), cause damage to our teeth that become cavities. The acid is literally dissolving the enamel of the tooth.

Once the conditions in the mouth are no longer acidic, the damage to the enamel ceases and can be potentially reversed. It’s this interplay of the minerals in the enamel dissolving and being redeposited throughout the day that can eventually lead to a cavity. The longer the acidic conditions last, the more damage is done to the teeth.

For the conditions in our mouth to no longer be acidic, a few things need to happen. First and foremost, whatever is causing the condition needs to no longer be there. Any food stuck to or between your teeth will continue to promote acidic conditions in and around that tooth. After that, saliva will work on returning the conditions of the mouth to a non-acidic condition. On average it takes 15 minutes for this buffering action of the saliva to take place.

So keep in mind the enamel of your teeth are under attack for 15 minutes after the last sip of coffee or your last bite of lunch. So what can help is brushing your teeth afterwards, chewing sugar-free gum, and even just rinsing with water. Sugar-free gum is beneficial because it promotes the secretion of saliva and can shrink that 15 minutes of acid-attack down to a few. Xylitol, a common sweetener in sugar-free gums, has also been shown to have anticariogenic properties. In lieu of brushing, sugar-free gum is a great option following meals and drinks.

So when are 4 cups of coffee less damaging to your teeth than one? If you have 4 cups of coffee in 30 minutes as opposed to nursing a single cup for 2 hours, you are doing less damage to your teeth. The reason is, from the first sip your teeth are experiencing acidic conditions, and with every single sip that you take, the 15 minute timer for saliva to buffer and clear the acid is reset. Of course, your physician will have other concerns with all those cups of coffee!