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Is your sports drink eating your teeth?

How to read the pH scale Sukkie style.


I get asked a lot at events about Sukkie and why it’s better for your teeth.

Dental erosion has always been a hard part of the science to explain – especially the pH scale. I was never a science geek at school but some research showed me I needed to brush up on my science to know what to look for when I pick up a drink.

Ever wondered why we were the first sports drink to put ‘pH5’ on our label?

This post covers:

– why it’s hard to explain the pH scale,
– how it works,
– and (if you’re an athlete who want to have your own teeth into your 50’s) why knowing the acidity of your drink is so important.

The power of Hydrogen

The pH scale was a genius stroke of the science world to make it easier to work with huge numbers. So instead of saying 100,000,000,000,000 we can say 14 instead (count those zeros). The trouble with making it simpler to work with is the real meaning can get lost.

The low down on pH

Let’s face it, most science-based formulae is hard to explain. The pH scale has to be right up there. Here are two areas that make it hard to explain the pH scale:

1) ‘Low pH’ really means ‘high acid’

In most things in life a value of 1, is not very much at all. So when I say pH1, it doesn’t sound like all that much, does it? The lower a number is on the pH scale, the more acidic it is. The pH of your gut acid is pH1, pH1 is very acidic.

2) ‘1’ really means ‘multiply by 10’

The scale goes from 1 to 14 based on the concentration of hydronium ions. It is a logarithmic scale, which means as you move down the scale from each pH value is 10 times more concentrated than the last.

If we move from a value of pH5 to pH4 a drink is 10 times more acidic. If we move from pH5 to pH3 a drink is 100 times more acidic and from pH5 to pH2 a drink is 1,000 times more acidic and so on.

This is hurting my brain, what’s so important about pH?
Research shows teeth start to soften and erode when we drinks below pH5. Trouble is you can find a stack of drinks on supermarket shelves with pH as low as 2.3. At around 500 times more acidic than pH 5, it’s like a sugary acid bath for your teeth.

Even though there is a mother-load of evidence proving acidic drinks can cause dental erosion, our food guidelines haven’t changed to reflect this. Our food guidelines cover acidification of food for preservation, not the impacts acid has on your teeth.

Things move slowly with food regulations, so we might not see changes in food regulation for the next decade of so. Until then hopefully this helps explain the pH scale, why it almost over simplifies the issue of acidity, and if we were to know the pH of a drink, how to know if it is good for you and your pearly whites.

In this video I take an average wall and try to outline some key points covered in this post.

Video correction: at 3:03 this should read 200 x more concentrated (not 300 times).

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