Dental Decay

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What makes teeth rot? Testing tooth decay with acidic drinks.



The "How To" From Science-U


You will need:

  • Various types of drinks (water, orange juice, soda, sports drinks, etc.)
  • pH test strips (make your own using red cabbage at
  • Animal teeth (you can purchase online at various sites)
  • Cups
  • A sharp tool


  1. Measure out a small amount of each type of drink and put in a different cup. Make sure you put enough in the cup that it will cover the tooth and put the same amount of the different liquids in each cup.
  2. Using pH test strips, measure the pH of each of the liquids and record it.
  3. Put one animal tooth into each cup and let it sit at room temperature for 5 days.
  4. Take out the tooth from each cup and observe the differences.
  5. Using a sharp tool, try to scratch the enamel off of each of the teeth.
  6. Clean up!

For educators and parents - How to guide young learners in science:

  • Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a teaching approach that is fundamental for the development of higher order thinking skills (summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, creating). It puts the student in the driver's seat and promotes learning through engaging student-based investigations, following the same process used by scientists.
  • IBL begins by posing a question, problem, or scenario rather than simply presenting facts or a standard method to solve a problem. The learner is actively engaged and investigates concepts to reach authentic meaning.
  • The IBL process can vary, however the basics are as follows:

1. The student creates a testable question of their own.

2. The student obtains supporting evidence to answer the question by making observations, doing research, collecting data through an experiment, changing variables from a previous experiment, etc.

3. The student explains the evidence collected.

4. The student creates a claim (explanation) and justifies it using evidence form the investigation.

5. The student creates predictions for future investigations.

  • Recording information during the IBL process is also important to promote science literacy. The following chart is a helpful tool to guide students through the process.


Questions to ask:

  • Do you see a correlation between how acidic the drink is and how much of the enamel can be scraped off after 5 days in the drink?
  • What factors other than acidity might affect the breakdown of the enamel? How would you test this?
  • In what other drinks could you test the teeth?

The Science Behind It:

  • Constant exposure to acidic drinks strips the enamel, the hard, protective layer of the tooth.
  • When tooth enamel is exposed to acidic beverages, it softens and loses some of its mineral content. Saliva will help neutralize it to the mouth's natural balance and slowly harden the tooth enamel. However, because the tooth's recovery process is slow, if the acid exposure happens frequently, the tooth enamel does not have the chance to repair.
  • This can cause tooth sensitivity and lead to the need for dental treatment in order to protect the tooth and the dentin underneath                                                                       null


  • Teaching Great Lakes Science (
  • Dental Health Foundation (
  • WebMD (
  • Dental Professional (


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