fact that you’ll need to considerBy: Joyce Kahng, DDS •July 20, 2023
Hey there, coffee aficionados!
Have you ever wondered if the morning cappuccino or midday espresso shot you love is causing damage to your teeth?
If so, check out the information below to learn about whether or not coffee causes cavities and what you can do to limit the chances of developing cavities.
If you’re expecting a straightforward yes or no, hold on to your coffee cups—because the answer is a bit more complex. As a matter of fact, coffee in its purest form—black and without any added sweeteners—may not significantly contribute to the development of cavities. With that said, don’t rush to chug down your sixth espresso just yet. There’s more to this story.
Here’s a fact that you’ll need to consider—coffee is acidic. This is a big deal because the acidity in coffee can erode enamel (the tooth’s outer protective layer). This can make teeth more susceptible to decay and cavities over time. Before you banish coffee from your life, though, let’s take a deeper look at the role of acidity and enamel.
Firstly, let’s tackle what tooth enamel is. It’s the hardest substance in the human body, even stronger than bone, and it acts as a protective shield for your teeth. The primary purpose of enamel is to safeguard your teeth from damage. However, despite its toughness, it isn’t invincible.
With that in mind, let’s consider coffee, its acidity, and how it affects your enamel.
Coffee has an average pH value of around 5, making it less acidic than other beverages like orange juice or soda, but still acidic enough to be a concern. When you sip your coffee, the acidic content can gradually erode or wear away the enamel on your teeth, a process aptly called acid erosion. Over time, this erosion can lead to the thinning of your enamel—leaving your teeth more vulnerable to other issues (cavities included).
However, while coffee can contribute to an environment where cavities could occur, it’s not usually directly associated with causing cavities.
So, while your morning brew can contribute to the erosion of enamel over time, the coffee itself doesn’t provide the ‘food’ that cavity-causing bacteria need to produce harmful acids. The sugars and carbohydrates that often accompany our coffee in the form of sweeteners or snacks are what these bacteria crave, leading to a higher risk of cavities.
In this sense, coffee plays a bit of a supporting role in dental decay. Its acidity can potentially expedite the wear and tear of your teeth, making them more susceptible to decay. However, it’s not typically the lead issue when it comes to cavity formation.
Coffee is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols—natural compounds that can actually be beneficial for oral health. They help combat inflammation and fend off harmful bacteria that could lead to gum disease. They can even fight off the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, a major problem in the world of tooth decay. This could potentially make coffee an ally in your fight against cavities, contrary to popular belief.
If black coffee isn’t the prime suspect, what might be causing the coffee-cavity connection then? Here’s the culprit—sugar. If you’re among those who can’t stomach black coffee and prefer a generous amount of sugar, syrups, cream, or flavored sweeteners, this might not be music to your ears.
Adding these cavity-causing substances to your coffee significantly increases the chance of tooth decay. Sugar provides an easy feast for bacteria in our mouths, which in turn produces acids that can cause cavities. Cream and milk, unless they’re sugar-free, can also contribute to this issue.
Furthermore, sweetened coffee drinks often contain ingredients like caramel, chocolate, and whipped cream, which only add to the sugar content. The longer these sugars stay in contact with your teeth, the more they feed the harmful bacteria causing cavities.
So, while coffee itself might not be the villain, the usual suspects that accompany it in your cup could be causing issues with your oral health. Remember, the more you load up your coffee with sweet additives, the more you’re dialing up your risk of tooth decay. So, it’s not just about coffee consumption, but more about how you prefer your coffee and how it interacts with your overall oral hygiene habits.
If you would like to ensure your teeth stay safe and healthy without giving up coffee, consider these oral health tips:
As with most things in life, moderation is crucial. Try to limit your coffee intake to prevent excessive exposure to its acidic nature.
It might be tough but consider reducing the amount of sugar or sweetened creamers in your coffee.
After having your coffee, rinse your mouth with water to neutralize the acidity. Wait about 30 minutes to brush your teeth to avoid damaging the enamel that might have been softened by the coffee’s acidity.
Maintain your regular dental check-ups. Your dentist can keep an eye out for any early signs of cavities or other issues.
Coffee and cavities have a more complex relationship than many of us would think. It’s not just about banning coffee or enduring it black; it’s about understanding the factors at play and making small adjustments to keep our teeth healthy and our taste buds happy.
So go ahead, enjoy that cup of joe—but be mindful of how you consume it and take care of your oral health. With the right level of balance and decay prevention tactics, you can continue to drink the coffee you love without worry.
DOCTOR + FOUNDER