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 and expensive dentistry.
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 (especially cranberry, orange, grapefruit, and pineapple), as well as vegetable juices (especially tomato), as are sodas, sports drinks, and some wines.
Here’s a list of beverages sorted by pH. The site says that any drink with a pH under 5.5 can erode tooth enamel.
Also, if you’re reading this blog, you might be drinking cultured or fermented beverages such as kombucha, KeVita Sparkling Probiotic Drink, and/or Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar Drink, none of which are listed on the above link.
Wikipedia says the pH of kombucha is between 2.5 and 4.6.
I couldn’t find pH information on KeVita. I prefer the plain coconut version that’s most similar to fermented coconut water, which I used to make myself when I had more time. If anyone knows, please share.
Update: Plain raw apple cider vinegar has a pH of 3.075. Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar Drink (pH unknown) is diluted with water, so it is probably fine.
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? 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 lemon juice rather than 4. Definitely don’t drink it neat!
(3) Use a straw, which will bring the acidic liquid more toward the back of your mouth away from your teeth. This also applies to juices you make at home or buy and other beverages below 5.5 in pH. If they don’t come with a straw, get one and use it. (Please avoid plastic straws. Paper straws can be composted. Stainless steel straws can be reused. There’s way too much plastic in the world. Please!)
(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 calcium and phosphates that offset the demineralization that occurs from consuming acidic food and drink. Normalizing your saliva helps remineralize your tooth enamel while it’s still soft from the acid.
(5) You can 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 will 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.
(6) Very important! Do not brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after drinking water with lemon or any acidic beverage. Brushing and abrasive substances in your toothpaste can thin the softened enamel, so wait an hour, 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 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, 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 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
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, and I’ve improved my gum health! Click the link to find out how.
A January 2017 post, Healing a Deep Dental Pocket, explores how to do just that.
I’d love to hear your story about tooth enamel and changing your diet and daily practices.
Other 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
If you like this blog, please consider checking out my Products I Recommend page, with recommendations for self-care tools, supplements, and books that promote well-being.
Thank you for stopping by my blog!