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Is Coffee Bad for Your Teeth?

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A woman smelling a cup of coffee.

Coffee—the glorious elixir of morning grogginess, workday survival, and the social fabric of countless communities. Many swear by it and insist it’s best not to talk to them until they’ve had their first cup. But even the most fervent coffee devotee might wonder how it affects their teeth. 

Nearly everything we eat impacts our smile, which is why we keep them clean and healthy, but how does coffee stack up?

Coffee is acidic and can wear down enamel, which is bad for your teeth as it can open the path for bacteria to sneak in. It can also stain your teeth, as anyone who’s spilled coffee on their new white shirt can attest. But from frequent cleaning to teeth whitening solutions, there are ways to mitigate the damage our favourite brew can do.

Coffee vs. Your Teeth

The first touchy fact is that coffee is inherently acidic. Excessive exposure to acids can wear down enamel, our teeth’s protective layer. Without enamel, your teeth may be left open to bacteria that can cause tooth decay. Hence, while enjoying that morning cup of joe, you’re partaking in a subtle enamel-eroding ritual day after day. It’s a slow burn, not an overnight disaster.

But nothing is ever quite that simple. Simple black coffee is surprisingly anti-bacterial, and a 2009 study showed it could help prevent cavities! However, the benefits are greatly reduced once you toss in milk, sugar, or cream. In some cases, it completely negates the anti-cavity properties.

And while even black coffee is acidic, it may not be worse than other common drinks. Pretty much any drink that isn’t water can cause bacteria to grow in your mouth. In moderation, coffee might keep its enamel-stripping complications at bay—especially if you take it black.

Tooth Decay & Gum Disease

Tooth decay is bacterial damage to the tooth’s structure. When we consume food and drink, bacteria-filled plaque accumulates on our teeth, eventually hardening into tartar. This bacteria feeds on sugars and makes acids that can damage your tooth’s enamel. 

We’ve already talked about coffee’s acidic nature, but this is why adding sugar or cream gives these bacteria a real feast. In time, the bacteria could reach the inside of the tooth, causing an infection potentially requiring a root canal.

Plaque can also extend beneath the gum line. When it does, it can create tiny pockets of infection. This is an early form of gum disease called gingivitis.

The good news is gingivitis can be reversed. The bad news is, if unchecked, gum disease can cause your teeth to become loose and even fall out.

How Else Can Coffee Affect Your Oral Health?

If there’s one indisputable truth about coffee and teeth, it’s the staining. Coffee contains particles called tannins, which help colour compounds stick to our teeth like teeny, tiny magnets. This means your daily cup can likely contribute to a less-than-stellar “Hollywood” smile. 

Coffee can also stick to your tongue, contributing to bad breath. You may need to use mouthwash or a tongue scraper to help avoid this stinky situation.

A woman brushing her teeth.

Protecting Your Teeth

Fear not, coffee connoisseurs! There are ways to enjoy your daily ritual without it being a dental catastrophe. 

You can start by implementing a solid dental routine. Brush twice a day and floss daily to remove the plaque and bacteria left behind by coffee. Visit your dentist regularly to help fortify your oral defences.

You should also avoid sipping your coffee throughout the day. Constant exposure to acidic coffee means continuous acid attacks on your enamel. Having a coffee break, where you finish your drink in one go, gives your pearly whites a break.

If your teeth are already sporting coffee’s trademark yellow, you may benefit from professional teeth whitening. While at-home methods like whitening toothpaste or strips can handle mild stains, dentists typically have tools to address deeper discolouration. Dental professionals can bring back some shine to your grin so you can continue your coffee adventures with a smile.

Balancing Your Brew with Marks Dentistry

Coffee’s relationship to your teeth is more complicated than it seems. In the grand scheme of dental goodness, coffee lands alongside many other things we consume. You can enjoy your coffee breaks without worry with the right precautions and practices. It’s all about moderation and, of course, good oral hygiene.

Taking care of your smile shouldn’t mean giving up the little things that help us through the day. For many, coffee is, and always will be, that reliable companion in our daily grind. But be mindful when you’re pouring your next cup. Limit the amount of sugary additives, followed up with a good water rinse and a nice brushing.Savour your brews responsibly, and when in doubt, Marks Dentistry is here to help you flash that smile to the world, so come by for regular exams and cleanings. And if yellow teeth are stealing your smile, we offer professional teeth whitening. Book your appointment today.

Written by Dr. Jonah Marks

Dr. Jonah Marks received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Schulich School of Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario. During his time at Schulich, Dr. Marks volunteered at Schulich’s Dental Outreach Community Services, providing pro bono dental treatment to underprivileged patients in London, Ontario. He currently provides pro bono work for LAMP Community Health Care Centre and the Alpha Omega Dental Volunteer Program. In addition, Dr. Marks travelled to Nicaragua where he provided dental care in underserved communities.

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