Too Much Coffee Can Cause Tooth Sensitivity and Tooth Wear By Dr. Jeff Shnall
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages around and a great many people do not feel right until they have had their morning cup. While coffee has been touted to have many positive health effects, if consumed in excess and/or over long periods of time throughout the day, coffee can cause tooth sensitivity, tooth wear and tooth erosion.
In this article I will discuss when coffee consumption can lead to tooth sensitivity, what kind of damage coffee can inflict on our teeth and how you can still enjoy your morning cup without having to worry about coffee harming your teeth.
Drinking a cup or two of coffee a day has been found to have some positive effects. For example, research has shown that having a cup of caffeinated coffee 30 minutes before a workout will boost exercise performance by ten percent. The caffeine boost from a cup of coffee can help kick start our day and some people rely on coffee to help them get through their work day, giving them a wake-me-up when their energy is low.
When can coffee consumption lead to dental problems?
As the old saying goes, everything in moderation. I have met patients whose excessive coffee drinking has caused tooth sensitivity and tooth wear.
Figure 1 Acids found in common foods such as soft drinks, iced tea, sports drinks as well as stomach acids entering the mouth can can tooth sensivity and tooth wear/erosion.
One cause of tooth sensitivity is frequent and /or prolonged exposure of our teeth to acid.
The source of this acid will either be found in the food or drink we consume or from strong acids that rise up from our stomach back into our mouth in conditions such as acid reflux or bulimia.
Figure 2 The acidity of food or drink is measured by its pH score. Notice on the chart that tooth enamel will dissolve at a pH of 5.5 or lower. Some soft drinks have a pH of 3 or less.
The acidity of food or drink is rated by its pH score. Tap water is neutral and has a pH of 7. If food or drink has a pH below 7 it is acidic.
Enamel is the hardest mineral in our body but it will start to dissolve if exposed to liquids with a pH of 5.5 or lower.
So if acidic food or drink is taken in amounts that is too excessive or too frequent our teeth can demineralize or dissolve. And once you start to lose tooth structure through dissolution or erosion you cannot grow it back.
If you are prone to enamel wear due to an overly acidic diet your enamel can wear and become thin. A tooth that is undergoing acid erosion can become more fragile, may chip more easily and can also become more sensitive.
Figure 3 Tooth sensitivity is far more common in people with gum recession.
Tooth sensitivity is far more common in people with gum recession. Gum recession is a fairly common condition in which our gums shrink away from their original position on the tooth leaving an exposed root.
The roots of our teeth are not covered by enamel. Rather they are covered by a material called cementum. Cementum is softer than enamel and can be easily worn away by using a hard toothbrush and/or by brushing the roots of the teeth too aggressively.
Underneath enamel and cementum is a layer of dentin. Dentin is also softer than enamel and more easily eroded by acid.
Figure 4 Dentin and cementum can start to wear if it is exposed to food or drink with a pH of 6.7 or lower.
Dentin and cementum can start to wear if it is exposed to food or drink with a pH of 6.7 or lower. But the most damage to exposed roots will be seen in people who either have dry mouth, who have a diet high in acidic food/drink or who have acid reflux issues.
When the exposed roots of our teeth are exposed to an excessive amount of acid the root surface softens.
For example, if you have gum recession and you drink a lot of acidic beverages (citrus fruit juices, sports drinks, coffee or pop/soda/soft drinks ) or have acid reflux the root surface will soften and erode. This can lead to deep defects in the side of the root and can also cause tooth sensitivity.
Is coffee acidic acidic enough to damage or teeth?
That will depend on the type of coffee you drink.
In an article titled “Low Acid Coffees,” author Kenneth Davids states “Most high grown, medium roasted coffees ….tend to register a pH of around 4.9 to 4.5.” (Source: The website “ Coffee Reviews”).
So if you regularly drink medium roast coffees you are exposing your teeth to an acidic drink.
Here are some other key points from his interesting article:
Acidity can boost the flavour of coffee
The organic acids in coffee are what gives coffee its health positive antioxidant effects.
Acidic coffees can stimulate and worsen acid reflux in people with this condition.
There are coffee companies that make low acid coffees and market them as such. These companies achieve low acidity by either slow roasting their coffee beans or by steaming the waxy outer layer off the green coffee bean before roasting it. These companies also purchase their coffee beans from certain regions of Brazil that grow coffee beans with naturally less acidity.
Other ways of finding a lower acidity coffee are by looking at brands that are dark roasted or very dark roasted, both which will result in lower acidity.
Three low acid brands that the author gave good taste reviews are “Tully’s French Roast” and “Peet’s Sumatra Blue Batak.” These brands were not advertised by their manufacturer as low acid brands but were found to be low in acidity as they are dark roasted.
The author of the article did not like the taste of some low acid coffees so you may want to do some research before you buy a brand just because it is advertised as a low acid coffee. The taste could disappoint you.
Two low acid brands that did get good taste review in the article were were the “Simpatico Nice Coffee” and “Simpatico Espresso Roast.”
The author also states that “ almost any Brazil or Sumatra and many Mexicos, Perus, Guatemala Antiguas and Nicaragua's brought to a darker roast should display relatively low acidity.”
What is the ph of low acid coffee?
I was not able to get good data on this. One brand of low acid coffee called "Trucup" states the following on their website:
"According to our test results, Trücup Born To Be Mild (Light Roast) clocked in at an impressive 5.74 pH level – making it 1.7 to 4.6 times less acidic than light roasts from some of the leading national coffee brands."
I have never tasted Trucup coffee. It does come in at a pH higher than 5.5 so that it means that it will not erode enamel and could be kinder to sensitive stomachs but a pH of 5.74 means that it still acidic enough to potentially cause root sensitivity if you have gum recession and drink it in excess.
When can coffee consumption cause sensitivity and tooth wear?
This depends on your consumption pattern: How much coffee do you drink? How many cups a day? How long does it take you to have your cup of coffee?
It takes me about 15 minutes to drink my morning coffee. I drink my cup of coffee at lunchtime in about 10 minutes or less. Drinking one or two cups of coffee a day in mere minutes does not bathe my teeth in an acidic liquid long enough to cause any tooth sensitivity or enamel wear, especially since I am also eating food as well with the coffee.
Having the coffee at a meal time boosts my saliva flow and means the acid of the coffee will be washed off my teeth at a faster rate. The bicarbonate, found inmy (and your) saliva will also buffer the acid found in the coffee further lessening the chance of damage to the enamel or dentin of my teeth.
However, I have patients who do have tooth sensitivity and do show signs of tooth erosion and it is likely coming at least in part from the coffee they drink.
What do these patients have in common?
They have longer periods of coffee exposure to their teeth.
They can take 45 mins to an hour to have a single cup of coffee, taking small sips.
They often have several cups of coffee a day
I have patients who tell me they have 3 cups of coffee per day, taking one hour to drink each cup.
Another patient recently told me she drinks 6 cups of coffee per day, taking an hour to drink each cup.
These patients are exposing their teeth to potentially acidic brands of coffee for 3 to 6 hours per day respectively (practically all day long at work).
It is no surprise that these patients complain of tooth sensitivity and show signs of enamel wear.
Tips to reduce tooth sensitivity and wear from excess coffee consumption
1. Limit the amount of coffee you you drink each day. Can you get by with 1 to 2 cups instead of 3 or more?
2. Limit the time it takes you to drink a cup of coffee. 10 to 15 minutes per cup is better than an hour per cup and and will expose your teeth to less acid.
3. Substitute coffee with tap water or milk if you feel you need to drink in between meals during the day. These latte two beverages are non-acidic, however do not sip on milk for long periods of time as milk does contain lactose, a natural sugar that can cause cavities if milk is sipped at for hours on end.
4. Try chewing sugarless gum to keep your mouth moist and occupied to help wean you off of an excessive coffee consumption.
5. Have coffee with a meal rather than as a stand alone beverage.
6. Get enough sleep at night! If you can get 8 hours of sleep each night you may not need as much caffeine to get you through the day.
7. Do some research on low acid coffees or check out some brands of dark roast coffees and see if there is available information on the pH / acidity of the brand. Searching the brand online is a way to start.
8. Some habits are hard to break. Some patients who do drink /sip on high amounts of coffee that I have in my practice can find it hard to cut back on their coffee consumption even if they know it is not a healthy habit.
Figure 5 How toothpastes for sensitive teeth work: (A) shows a magnified view of small openings on the side of the tooth root (brown dots) The openings are caused by acid stripping away the protective coating of the root. If cold water or sweets contact these opened tubules on the root, pain in the tooth can result. (B) If you brush with a desensitizing toothpaste i.e. Sensodyne chemicals such as potassium nitrate shown as yellow dots can plug up the microscopic openings on the root. (C) The root openings are plugged up, eliminating the root sensitivity.
For these patients a desensitizing toothpaste like Sensodyne, Colgate Pro Relief or others can seal up roots exposed by excess coffee consumption and give some relief from tooth sensitivity.
Figure 6 French press, perfect for making cold brew coffee
Another Low Acid Coffee Option:
By using a technique called Cold water brewing one can also lower the acidity of coffee.
Cold brew coffee is made by letting medium to coarse ground coffee sit (steep) in cold or room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours. Hot water is not used in the process. After at least 12 hours, the grounds are filtered out of the water leaving the finished cold brew coffee. You could filter the grounds out by pouring the coffee through a coffee filter or you could use a French press for the entire steeping and filtering process.
During the steeping process the oils,caffeine and sugars of the coffee are released out of the coffee grounds and into the water. The result is smooth, rich coffee that is of less acidity than regularly brewed or iced coffee.
Cold brew coffee is different from iced coffee, the latter being hot coffee that has been allowed to cool and then poured over ice. Iced coffee has the same acidity (pH) of hot coffee. (Source: .What is the Difference Between Cold-Brewed Coffee and Iced Coffee? By Amy Sowder | Published on Thursday, September 29, 2016 on the website Chowhound)
I am not about to give up drinking coffee and I am not suggesting you do either. However due to its acidic nature it should be consumed in reasonable amounts and is best not sipped over long periods on a daily basis. When our teeth are sensitive they may be are telling us that they are being exposed to too much acid.
Excess coffee drinking can cause severe tooth sensitivity. A patient of mine recently told me that she has been drinking many cups of coffee throughout the day for several years. Her teeth were so sensitive that she would require freezing of all of her teeth before they could be cleaned by a hygienist.
After explaining the acidity of coffee consumption she agreed to cut back on her consumption and also started to use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Her tooth sensitivity decreased significantly and she was able to have her teeth cleaned without local anaesthetic, although we did use a little nitrous oxide sedation. She felt it was a definite improvement though compared to previous cleanings.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact our office :) Jeff Shnall May 2018