An Expert Explains Why Eating Sour Candy Can Hurt Your Mouth
The perils of that lip-puckering tingle.
Either you love the tartness hitting your tongue and the aching mouth you get afterwards, or you'd rather do a deep dive with a great white than eat sour candy. The punch of sour candy can be delicious in small doses, but eating a lot in a short space of time might leave you with aching gums, painful cheeks, and — if you're like Chrissy Teigen — even a peeling tongue. If you've ever wondered why sour candy makes your mouth hurt like you just chomped a bunch of metal filings, it has to do with the tangy power of acid.
"Sour candies taste sour because of the acid that is incorporated into them," Dr. Heather Kunen D.D.S., an orthodontist and co-founder of Beam Street Dentistry, tells Bustle. Citric acid, which is usually found in citrus fruits like lemons and limes, is a common ingredient, as are ascorbic, fumaric and tartaric acid. They're all natural ingredients that show up in fruits and veggies. Long-lasting sour candies also incorporate malic acid, which is found in apples, cherries and tomatoes, which prolongs the bitter flavor of a candy as you suck on it.
The lower a food's pH level, the more acidic it is, and the pH level of sour candies is really low, at around 3.0. For comparison, the pH of sour cream is about 4.5, and PowerAde Lemon Lime is about 2.75. This is what give lemon drops and other candies such a kick on your tastebuds, tempered by the sweetness of the candy sugar.
A little of this might be your favorite sensation — but too much might leave you reaching for the water. "If you consume a lot of this highly acidic treat, you may find that the inside of your mouth feels uncomfortable or even burned," Dr. Kunen says. Too many Warheads and acid begins to build up in your mouth, and starts doing damage to the tissue and surfaces around it. There have been reported cases of tongue burns and blisters when people have eaten a lot of sour candy in one sitting, and it can also cause damage to teeth enamel. Eating a whole box in one sitting might make your mouth kind of hate you.
"The best way to resolve this discomfort is to rinse with water or even to consume a dairy product," Dr. Kunen says. Getting ahold of some cheese, yogurt, or milk has two benefits, she says. For one, they help neutralize the mouth's pH balance, bringing it away from acidity towards something more comfortable. (This is why dairy is a good bet when you've overdone it on spicy foods, too.) "They also contain a protein called casein that helps to protect our enamel," she says, so your teeth will probably thank you.
The good news? If your tongue is starting to peel, like Teigen's did, it's a signal that the tissue is beginning to heal after enduring a barrage of acid. This can also make your mouth more sensitive as new cells grow. Blisters, sore spots inside your mouth, and pain when you chew are all signs that you should ease off on the sour candy until your mouth has completely recovered. It's OK: you can just listen to Lady Gaga until you're ready for gummy worms again.
Dr. Heather Kunen, D.D.S.