Ask An Expert·3 min read

Is Coffee Bad for Your Teeth? A Dentist Explains

Dear Expert,

Is coffee bad for your teeth?

Dear Anonymous,

The issue with coffee isn’t the coffee itself, but how you drink it. It all comes down to the pH in your mouth and how long your teeth are exposed to an acidic liquid. 

The connection between pH levels and your teeth

Reminder: pH is the measure of how acidic or basic a substance is, with neutral being a pH level of 7 (anything below is considered acidic, anything above is considered basic). Teeth can start eroding at a pH below 5.5. Coffee’s pH has an acidity level of 4.85 to 5.10. Ideally, if you drink coffee within five minutes, it’ll take about 20 to 25 minutes for your saliva to kick in and raise the pH in your mouth to neutral. If you have a huge coffee and you take a sip every five minutes over the course of a few hours, your mouth may not have a chance to reach a neutral pH. 

How does coffee impact my teeth?

There are two big problems with having an acidic mouth for long periods of time: One, you create an environment where the good bacteria don't survive and the bad bacteria thrive. Two, the tooth structure itself can start to dissolve over time. When you throw in creamer, milk, or sugar, it also creates acidity. That also puts you at risk of cavities

Sipping on coffee can also contribute to teeth staining over time. Teeth whitening products may help, but if you continue to eat or drink whatever caused the staining in the first place, it will continue to happen again.

Can I drink coffee without damaging my teeth?

Instead of giving up coffee altogether, you can make some changes and protect your teeth. When you’re sipping on coffee, swish with water regularly to help wash away some acidity. You can also try switching to espresso: Two sips and then you’re done. It’s much more acidic, but it goes by so quickly that the acidity doesn’t matter as much. Drinking coffee with a straw can also help, since the straw goes past the teeth and you swallow without bathing your teeth in coffee (a win for your iced coffee addiction). 

Featured Expert

Dr. Augusto Antonio Robles

Dr. Augusto Antonio Robles - Dr. Augusto Antonio Robles, an associate professor of general dentistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Ask an Expert is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a question, you are agreeing to let theSkimm use it—in part or in full—and we may edit its answer for length and/or clarity.

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