We've all heard those nightmarish beauty stories about people who've burned their skin with Nair or tried to fix self-tanning mistakes with a Magic Eraser. But most of the time, it's a "my best friend's second cousin's roommate's teaching assistant" situation. When you actually know someone first-hand who's had a quadruple-digit dental bill from drinking too much lemon water, though, it feels like a whole different ball game. After finding out that my cousin, whose dental care I know is solid but whose affinity for lemon water is legendary, had to have no less than seven (!) cavities filled due to guzzling way too many citrusy drinks I a) poured my own bottle of lemony goodness down the drain and b) called up cosmetic dentist Michael Apa to find out if I was well on my way to a fillings-fest, too.
In fact, when it comes to cavities and enamel wear, the pH of your favorite cold-pressed juice may not be the biggest concern. "Sugary drinks aren't good for your teeth," Apa says, in case you've never heard that from a dentist before. He adds that "things like wine have acidity, but they also have alcohol, which dries out your saliva," and since saliva helps protect you from cavities, it's the alcohol that's more likely to make a dent in your dental bill.
When it comes to those age-old tips, like using a straw to keep your teeth untouched, Apa's not particularly impressed. "The only time I would drink everything through a straw is right after bleaching, to avoid stains." Otherwise, he says, people tend to blow these sorts of concerns out of proportion.
OK, but what about my friend and her new headful of dental work? Well, the amount of acid you're taking in each day makes a difference, so if your lemon water is closer to lemonade (you know who you are!) or if you're chasing your daily 64 ounces of it with a margarita and ceviche, you'd better invest in some fluoride. "If you're one of those people who loves acidity, use oral-care products that remineralize your teeth," says Apa. If you've switched to a natural, sans-fluoride toothpaste, there's no need to give it up: To work some remineralization back into your routine, Apa suggests switching out your alcohol-heavy mouthwash for a fluoride mouth rinse (we like Act Restoring Mouthwash). Bonus: It won't make your eyes tear up when you rinse.
If you're still concerned about overdoing it on the acid, your best bet is, shockingly, to cut back. Switching out lemons for a few slices of cucumber or sprigs of mint are good choices if you need extra flavor to encourage your H2O intake. And if you just can't live without a little citrus zing in your life? As long as you keep your lemon squeezing reasonable (about one wedge of lemon for every eight ounces of water) the benefits of having a well-hydrated mouth will outweigh the acid.