Lemon Water, Fruit Juice and their Effects on Teeth

A couple of years ago, I decided to switch my first drink of the day from coffee to something a little more gentle. The coffee was proving too harsh on my empty stomach, leaving me with an uncomfortable ‘racy’ feeling. On the internet, I came across numerous health websites describing warm water and lemon as ‘the perfect morning drink’ because of its associated health benefits, including its ability to cleanse our systems, flush out toxins, stimulate digestion, reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.

Warm Water and Lemon

 Photo Source: 16 Health Benefits of Drinking Warm Lemon Water

So I made the switch from coffee to warm water with a slice of lemon, and my stomach was thankful …  However, what I didn’t realise until very recently was the damaging effect that this seemingly gentle drink can have on teeth.

About a year ago, M switched his morning drink to warm water and lemon too. Unfortunately, at his latest dental check up, the dentist was shocked by the extent of enamel erosion to his teeth. This damage has only happened in the past twelve months, and the dentist suspected that the culprit was the lemon water!

The dentist explained that the acidity in lemon softens tooth enamel and can cause erosion. If we brush our teeth soon after consuming the drink, the enamel is still soft and can easily erode. This enamel can never be replaced. When it’s worn away, it exposes the underlying dentin (making the teeth look hollow and yellow) and can cause sensitivity and cavities.

M has little time in the morning before he heads to work, so he’s likely to be brushing his teeth within 15 minutes of finishing his breakfast i.e. when the enamel’s still soft from the lemon water :/

The dentist gave us a few tips on how to minimise the risk of enamel erosion from acidic drinks…

  • Don’t brush your teeth for at least half an hour after the drink (many dental websites suggest it’s best to leave an hour before brushing)
  • Rinse your mouth out with water
  • Brush your teeth gently
  • Use a straw to limit the drink’s contact with the teeth
  • Chew sugar-free gum (this stimulates saliva which helps to neutralise the acidity)
  • Drink water frequently during the day to help wash away acid and prevent a dry mouth (as saliva is needed to neutralise the acid)
  • Try to limit acidic drinks to meal times only, to give the mouth a chance to restore to its optimal pH level (the dentist drew a graph to illustrate this point to me, which was helpful indeed!)

Since it has such a severe effect on teeth, M and I have decided to ditch the warm water and lemon altogether, and we now drink a cup of herbal tea instead. To be honest, I’m enjoying this as much as the lemon water, and my stomach has been fine too!

Herbal Tea Health Benefits

Photo Source: Herbal Tea Benefits

While lemon has one of the highest acid contents, it’s worth bearing in mind that other fruit juices and soda drinks are acidic too.

This issue of enamel erosion got me thinking about the amount of fruit juice that Lil’ L drinks. Typically, he’s been drinking a glass of juice with his breakfast, plus a carton of juice with his lunch. After our main meal, we usually make a fruit smoothie too (using whole fruits and non dairy milk/yoghurt).

In addition to the acid, there’s a large amount of fructose in fruit juice too. There’s been a lot in the media lately about the excessive amounts of sugar we’re consuming and how it’s affecting our health. Before, I’d only really been concerned about ‘added sugar’, but too much of any sugar can be harmful to us.

This past week, I’ve made a couple of changes to Lil’ L’s juice consumption:

  • In the morning, he has a glass of orange juice (fortified with calcium) with his breakfast. I make sure he has breakfast at least half an hour before he brushes his teeth.
  • The carton of juice in his lunchbox has been replaced with water. At the moment, he doesn’t like taking fresh fruit to school, so I make sure that his lunch contains vitamin-C rich vegetables instead (like red pepper) to aid the absorption of iron.
  • Fruit smoothies are now drunk with a straw

For now, I’ve been using a plastic straw which I rinse out immediately, but I’m on the lookout for a quality, reusable straw. You can buy reusable straws in so many different materials these days, including glass, stainless steel, silicone and even bamboo!

I’m also planning to get a straw cleaner, so I can make sure the straws are thoroughly cleaned out.

Next on the ‘to find’ list is a good quality, small size, eco-friendly water bottle that fits in his lunch bag and won’t leak. Now that could be a tall order. Any recommendations will be very gratefully received!