Spinach Teeth: The Real Story

spinach photo
Photo by ted_major

Even though it’s something that we’re always using, we really don’t often think about what goes on in our mouths, do we? For instance, why do our teeth feel weird when we eat spinach?

It turns out, the answer comes from chemistry!

It seems like a silly question, but it has a remarkably cool answer! If you’ve ever experienced this, you know what we’re talking about– a feeling that is often described as ‘chalky,’ or ‘dry’ after eating spinach leaves. It turns out, the answer comes from chemistry!

Spinach leaves are full of a mild chemical called Oxalic acid. This chemical isn’t harmful to humans, but it does bind with the chemicals we use to provide ourselves nutrition, including calcium. And it turns out that, although your saliva is around 99% water, it contains trace amounts of calcium, dissolved and suspended in your spit. When you chew spinach, you release that oxalic acid, which in turn binds with and precipitates the calcium out of your saliva, creating tiny calcium crystal! If your teeth feel chalky after you eat spinach, then what you’re feeling is the tiny calcium crystals that have formed in your mouth.

That’s not the only fun chemistry fact about your saliva!

Did you know that saliva is composed of a number of substances that break down food? One of the enzymes in your saliva–alpha-amylase, for those of you taking notes–is specifically suited to breaking down starch the moment it touches your mouth, turning it into sugar! The enzymes in your saliva are really remarkable, providing a whole range of digestive functions. If it weren’t for the enzymes in your saliva, your range of taste would be severely limited– enzymes help break down the food we eat into the chemicals we taste!

Food isn’t the only thing that enzymes break down, however. Did you know that, thanks to the chemistry of your mouth, your saliva has some antibacterial properties?

It’s true!

Enzymes like Lysozyme are incredibly well suited to managing the population of bacteria in your mouth, keeping your teeth and gums healthy (as a quick side-note, that’s why dry-mouth can be a significant issue: without the enzymes in your saliva, your mouth is much more susceptible to bacterial infections like gingivitis.) In addition, your mouth naturally produces hydrogen peroxide, and comes with its very own painkiller– a substance known as opiorphin!

The chemistry of the mouth is a fascinating subject. When you combine it with the chemistry of food, there’s no end to the awesome facts that you can find! This isn’t the last blog we’ll publish about the subject– stay tuned to our blog for more awesome food facts!

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
Email Us dentist