Is your drink destroying your teeth?

Did you know that acidic foods and drinks can damage tooth enamel and promote tooth decay?  In recent years, the public has become more concerned with the sugar content of soda and other beverages.  Several studies suggest that artificial sweeteners pose health risks also.  As people move away from sugar and artificial sweeteners they are left looking for something to drink besides “just plain water”.  Enter the soft-drink industry’s new flavor sensation: sour drinks.  They come in bottles and cans, or as envelopes or droplets to add to your bottled water.  Some contain less sugar than soda, some are made palatable by artificial sweeteners, but all contain acid.  The acid gives them that appealing tart flavor.

Another alternative to sweet drinks is seltzer, which is made enjoyable by those little bubbles and the trace of flavor added.  Carbonation does create a problem, though: it makes the seltzer acidic. So, how much acid is too much?  Well, the acidity of a solution (your beverage) is measured in terms of pH.  The pH scale measures acidity, with a pH of 7 being neutral (no acidity) and acidity increasing as the pH number gets smaller.  Tooth enamel becomes damaged at a pH of 5.5 or lower.  To put this in real- world terms, we tested several popular drinks to find their pH and thus their potential to damage your teeth by acid attack.  Please note the results do not reflect on the potential for damage to teeth caused by sugar content.

Sugar damages our teeth by feeding plaque bacteria, which in turn produce acid that breaks down tooth enamel.  Our saliva neutralizes this acid, but it takes 20 minutes to do so.  Each sip of a sugared drink results in a 20 minute acid bath for our teeth!  We were unable to find any information on how long it takes to return the mouth to a neutral pH after introducing an acidic beverage.  This merits some study, as these drinks are contributing to tooth decay for many people.  The worst offender in our test was Snapple Classic Lemonade, at a pH of 2.49 which is strongly acidic.  The least acidic of the bunch was Polar Cranberry-Lime Seltzer with a pH of 4.58,  which is still strong enough to damage tooth enamel.  That sour or fizzy drink may appeal to your tastes, but is it worth the damage to your teeth?

Consider drinking plain water.  It takes some getting used to, but once you are accustomed you will feel refreshed and revived by the original thirst quencher.  Your teeth will thank you for making the change!

-Rod Jensen, RDH

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