We all know soda’s bad for us, but reading a statistic helps put a new spin on just how bad it can be for our teeth. A University of Michigan analysis of dental checkup data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey notes that adults who drink three or more sodas a day have up to 62% more decayed, missing, and filled teeth than those who drink less.
I am a dentist, therefore, I spend considerable time talking about dental dangers. Some days I feel a bit like the TSA guys at the airport who say over and over again, “Remove your shoes/belt/wallet/keys, all liquids must be placed in a clear plastic bag, sir, you really should have left the Swiss Army knife at home.”
You’d think by now, people would already know this stuff, and I’m sure the security employees must get tired of being stuck on the same loop. But reality is, there’s always someone who doesn’t know, and it bears repeating because hey, it keeps us all safe and on our way to see Mickey Mouse, Mama Mia, or the Mayan ruins.
A Soft Drink by Any Other Name . . .
I’m from Michigan, so I grew up drinking “Pop,” well, when my mother would let me. It is interesting that as you move around the country, those same delicious, chock-full-o’-sugary-goodness fizzy drinks are instead referred to as “Soda” or “Soft Drinks” and sometimes they’re all labeled with the moniker of “Coke,” regardless what the flavor actually is. However, no matter what you call them, they all cause the same cluster of problems and they do not discriminate by age.
Switch on the TV, or scroll through your news feed and there’s no shortage of information (and opinions) on how carbonated beverages can negatively impact your health – and social life – including weight gain, obesity, diabetes, or my special interest area; cavities.
And if you happen to open up one of those prevention type magazines while sitting in your favorite dental office’s waiting room, there are scores of articles (like this one) that tout the dental statistics and also link consuming soft drinks to accelerated aging, fatty build up around the liver, cancer, and a whole litany of problems that can land you in your doctor’s office and well on the way to meeting your health insurance’s deductible.
Fizzy Drinks & Fuzzy Teeth?
So it’s not a new revelation that soft drinks are one of the primary dietary sources of tooth decay, because it is essentially dyed sugar water, and therefore totally devoid of any nutritional value. The acid and sugar are what damage your tooth’s enamel, and once that happens, you are just a few short sips away from an extensive collection of cavities. Basically, when the sugar in a soda combines with the bacteria already present in your mouth, it forms an acid which then attacks your teeth.
While diet or sugar-free alternatives may not contain sugar, they do still have acid which damages your teeth. Phosphoric acid is what gives colas their tangy flavor (and an impressive shelf life), unfortunately, an acid ‘attack’ can last for about 20 minutes, and it starts right over with every new sip you take. So if you nurse a bottle of coke throughout the course of an afternoon, you’re also fostering an army of bacteria that gradually eats away at your teeth and weakens the enamel. And not to be the bearer of more bad news, but too much phosphoric acid can also potentially lead to heart and kidney problems, muscle loss, and osteoporosis.
Mountain Dew Mouth
Unfortunately children and teenagers are even more susceptible to tooth decay because their enamel is not fully developed. It’s disheartening to see how many school-age children are routinely consuming soft drinks (and don’t get me on the sport’s drink soapbox), estimates range from one in two, to more than four in five, having at least one a day. Let that sink in; at least one in five kids is consuming a minimum of four servings a day.
Some teenagers drink as many as twelve soft drinks a day. Twelve. And now with Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks on every corner, these are being chased with ‘dessert iced coffees.’
The other issue is that companies have increased serving sizes, where in the 1950’s our parents and grandparents were drinking 6.5 oz, we are now chugging down 20 oz. Car manufacturers have also had to get on the band wagon by installing cup holders that can accommodate the uber grande gulp from the morning drive-thru. As life expectancy increases, the problem is only going to continue. Remember; don’t shoot the messenger.
What’s Your Drinking Style?
Sip all day and get decay? So it’s not just what you drink, but how you drink it that can be a fast track to tooth rot. Random, but relevant fact of the day; did you know that dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue? So instead of grabbing a mid-afternoon Red Bull from the vending machine, we actually should be standing around the water cooler talking about plans for the weekend.
Bottom line, we all know what we should be doing, but because we’re also human we don’t always put on the sunscreen, order the salad, or floss before bed. So, I have a couple of (not too annoyingly preachy?) suggestions for the unashamed Fanta addict.
Moderation is generally a good place to start with no more than one 12oz can a day. The other thing is try not to nurse it all afternoon, but if you just can’t help yourself, then at least use a straw, this way it doesn’t completely marinate your teeth in sugar. And gargling is for mouthwash; the only thing you should be swooshing around your mouth to get the full flavor effect is a fine Cabernet, not a Coke. Otherwise, make sure you take a chug of water to help sluice off some of the sugar. Chewing sugar free gum can also stimulate your saliva (nature’s original ‘sluicer’). You could also brush and rinse, of course.
- Limit it – no more than 1 12-oz can a day.
- Sip Quick – try not to nurse it all afternoon.
- Use a Straw – and for Pete’s sake, don’t swish with it.
- Sluice after – chug some water or stimulate saliva with sugar free chewing gum.
Finally, the usual ‘dentist recommended’ directives still stand when it comes to good home care, including an artillery of fluoride tooth paste, mouth rinse, and an electric toothbrush. And, obviously, don’t stand up your dental hygienist for your professional cleaning.