Update, July 2021: If you are interested in having a healthy mouth, you may want to read this: Swishing with salt water reduces gum disease. I also want to mention the toothpaste I now use that strengthens tooth enamel, Boka Natural Toothpaste.
I recently became aware that one of my healthy habits was having a deleterious effect on my teeth, so I did some online research and am posting this to help others make healthier choices.
Benefits of drinking water with lemon
Drinking water with fresh lemon juice squeezed into it is touted as a very beneficial health practice. I googled “water with lemon” and found these top links (and many more):
- 11 Benefits of Lemon Water You Didn’t Know About
- Health Benefits of Drinking Warm Lemon Water*
- Why You Should Drink Warm Water with Lemon*
In short, water with lemon aids digestion, provides nutrients (Vitamin C, citric acid, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and pectin), boosts your immune system, strengthens liver functions, dissolves gallstones, provides antioxidants that nourish the skin, reduces inflammation, reduces hunger cravings, freshens breath, flushes toxins by increasing urination, reduces mucus, maintains a healthy alkaline pH once metabolized, is anti-bacterial to pathogens, reduces joint pain, and more.
Who wouldn’t want those benefits?
But…the acid in lemon juice erodes tooth enamel
Enamel is the hard covering that protects your teeth. It’s the strongest substance in the human body. When your enamel erodes, your teeth become sensitive and more prone to cavities. They also become yellower and may eventually appear hollowed. If that happens, you’ll need some serious, extensive, and expensive dentistry.
Acid can erode tooth enamel. Lemon and lime juice are the most acidic fruit juices of all, with a pH of 2 to 2.6.
Other fruit juices are also acidic, as are some sodas, sports drinks, vinegars, and wines.
Here’s a list of beverages sorted by pH. The site says that any beverage with a pH under 5.5 can erode tooth enamel.
How to drink acidic drinks and preserve your tooth enamel
The health benefits of drinking water with lemon are numerous. So what can you do to preserve your tooth enamel besides avoiding it? Here are some choices:
(1) Consider how much lemon juice you are adding to your water. One site says use the juice of half a lemon if you weigh under 150 lbs., and a whole lemon if you weigh more. You could certainly use less than that. A quarter or an eighth of a lemon will still give you some health benefits. More is not necessarily better, in this case.
(2) Also consider the amount of water. I couldn’t find any data on this, but obviously the more diluted the lemon juice is, the better for your tooth enamel. Consider drinking 8 or 12 ounces of water with a little lemon juice rather than 4. Definitely don’t shoot it!
(3) Use a straw, which will bring an acidic liquid more toward the back of your mouth away from your teeth. Please avoid plastic straws. There’s way too much plastic in the world already. Paper straws can be composted. Stainless steel straws can be reused.
(4) After you finish drinking your glass of lemon water, rinse your mouth with plain water and spit it out to help normalize your saliva. Saliva contains minerals that offset the demineralization that can occur from consuming acidic food and drink.
(5) Eat foods that neutralize the acid, like dairy (if you tolerate it), right after consuming your lemon water. There’s chance that some of the minerals in the dairy (like calcium) could be absorbed into your weakened enamel. This is pure speculation on my part, but if dairy products are part of your diet, you might consider eating some plain yogurt immediately after drinking your water with lemon. It couldn’t hurt.
Also, xylitol alkalizes your mouth and will neutralize acid. I like Spry mints.
(6) Very important! Do not brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after drinking water with lemon or any acidic beverage. Brushing and using toothpaste with abrasive substances (i.e., whiteners) can thin the softened enamel, so rinse with water, wait, then use a soft brush and brush gently. Or use a Waterpik on a low setting (1-2).
Using fluoride is controversial. Although classified as a neurotoxin, it does strengthen teeth and reduce sensitivity, so use a fluoride toothpaste only if you feel okay with it. I personally avoid it.
(7) Even better: brush your teeth before you drink your lemon water. But wait a few minutes after brushing before drinking it. A healthy mouth quickly creates a layer of pellicle on the teeth for protection after you brush. Allow the pellicle to work for you by creating a barrier on the enamel against acids.
*I was curious about why some sites say warm or hot water is best with lemon juice. Also, why do some say to drink lemon water first thing in the morning? These specifications come from Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. One site says:
The Ayurvedic philosophy believes the first item you ingest sets the mood for the remainder of the day. With that thought in mind, drink a glass of lukewarm water flavored with a fresh slice of lemon or lime. Here, the Ayurvedic reasoning is twofold. The warm water serves to stimulate the gastrointestinal tract and peristalsis—the waves of muscle contractions within the intestinal walls that keep things moving. Secondly, lemons and limes are high in minerals and vitamins and help loosen ama, or toxins, in the digestive tract.
Next step: rebuilding tooth enamel
So I’m learning. I don’t want to lose any more enamel. My teeth are sensitive enough as it is. I’d like to rebuild my enamel, and to that end I’m following the Weston A. Price Foundation dietary recommendations to remineralize my teeth.
Weston A. Price, a brilliant dentist and researcher, wrote a book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, about the relationship between diet and health. Several books explore his dietary recommendations (more shown on my Products I recommend page):
- Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
- The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle Featuring Bone Broths, Fermented Vegetables, Grass-Fed Meats, Wholesome Fats, Raw Dairy, and Kombuchas
- Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World
Read the updates: This was originally posted in January 2014. It’s now June 2016, and I just posted an update on my dental health, Rebuilding Tooth Enamel After Drinking Water with Lemon. Good news! My teeth are less sensitive now! Click the link to find out how.
Thank you for stopping by my blog! This is my most popular post, with nearly 100,000 views since 2014 — mostly found via search engine, which tells you how widespread this issue is.
Other diet and dental health related blog posts:
- Moving Toward a More Traditional Diet
- Turkey Vegetable Soup Made with Bone Broth
- Beet Kvass: The Easiest, Quickest Fermented Drink You Can Make
- Healing a Deep Dental Pocket
If you like this post, please consider checking out my Products I recommend page, with recommendations for self-care tools, supplements, and books that promote well-being.