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Is drinking this popular home remedy harmful to your teeth?

Apple cider vinegar has become a popular home remedy in recent years and has been used for centuries in cooking and medicine. It is believed to help with a wide range of health issues, including high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, obesity and high blood pressure. It is also said to help with eczema and acid reflux, but this has not been scientifically proven.

Apple cider vinegar is said to help with weight loss, heart health, and managing cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Shutterstock/Vasily Budarin
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Josephine Hirschfeld University of Birmingham

Because apple cider vinegar is a good source of nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin C, it is believed to be beneficial to your body as a whole. Apple cider vinegar is usually eaten with foods as an additive to sauces, salad dressings, and marinades.

Some people also drink apple cider vinegar diluted with hot or cold water. There are also pills, tablets, powders, and chewing gum. Diluted apple cider vinegar can also be used externally in baths, wet wraps, or as a hair rinse. But due to a lack of research on apple cider vinegar, there are no official dosage suggestions yet.

Research has shown that apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial and antioxidant effects – including anti-biofilm effects in the mouth. Oral biofilms, also known as dental plaque, consist of a sticky layer of bacteria on the surfaces of teeth. This means that, in theory, it might be able to reduce the levels of plaque on our teeth, but there are no clinical studies to test this.

Aside from the lack of evidence, there’s another important reason why apple cider vinegar isn’t the best choice for reducing plaque: Like other vinegars, it’s high in acids, and studies suggest it may corrode body tissues if not diluted. This includes the soft tissues in our mouth as well as our teeth and tooth enamel.

teeth and acids

Enamel is the mineralized substance that coats our teeth and is the hardest tissue in the human body. Enamel covers the crown, which is the part of the tooth visible in the mouth. However, the main part of the tooth is the dentin, which is located under the tooth enamel. Dentin is also a hard tissue, similar to bone, that has a direct connection to the dental pulp located in the center of our teeth, and contains nerves and blood vessels.

bottles of apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic, as are soft drinks and fruit juices, which means it can erode tooth enamel. Shutterstock/Thamc C

Enamel helps protect our teeth from chewing, biting, hot and cold temperatures, and potentially harmful chemicals. Despite this, some chemicals, such as acids, can damage enamel over time, if they come into contact with our teeth for longer periods. Acids are able to dissolve minerals in enamel and soften it, making it thinner over time. This is particularly the case if we brush our teeth or chew hard foods immediately after an acid attack, which can accelerate enamel loss.

When the enamel is eroded by the acids in vinegar, our teeth may become more sensitive. This means that they react more to hot or cold foods, drinks, and sweets because the dentin layer underneath the enamel is more sensitive due to the direct contact with the nerves inside our teeth. In some more advanced cases, when the enamel is completely eroded by the acids, the dentin is exposed and unprotected, and at this stage, the teeth wear out, and wear away more quickly.

what should be done

Dentists can identify this problem by looking at the shape and color of the teeth, asking about sensitive teeth and taking patients’ diet history to identify foods and drinks that contain acids. Although, when it comes to false teeth, some dentists have actually recommended soaking acrylic dentures in diluted vinegar due to its antifungal properties and ability to dissolve calcified plaque deposits (tartar).

However, a thin layer of proteins and saliva from our saliva will form a coating on our enamel, which can help protect it from acids. Our saliva also contains many minerals that are able to remineralize the outer layers of damaged enamel, but this takes time – usually several hours. The fluorides in toothpaste and mouthwash also strengthen the outer layers of enamel.

Black woman brushing teeth.
Do not brush your teeth immediately after drinking apple cider vinegar, always wait half an hour. Shutterstock/Superstar

So if you drink apple cider vinegar regularly and want to avoid tooth erosion, it is best to follow some rules. Always lower the apple cider vinegar and consider drinking it through a straw to protect your teeth. It also helps to take apple cider vinegar with your main meals to reduce the number of acid attacks in the day.

Avoid apple cider vinegar products that require a lot of chewing (such as acidic gum). Do not brush your teeth immediately before or after drinking apple cider vinegar. Instead, wait for about half an hour. When brushing your teeth, be gentle (not too abrasive), use fluoride toothpaste, and don’t use a hard toothbrush. To find out if it’s safe to use apple cider vinegar for your teeth, you can also talk to your dentist about your risk of developing tooth erosion.

Josephine Hirschfeld, Associate Professor and Consultant Emeritus of Restorative Dentistry, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.