Top 10 Worst Drinks for Your Teeth
Are you aware that fruit juice is bad for the teeth?
The Prevalence of Tooth Decay
I don't know about you, but in the few decades I've been alive, I've already noticed a huge change in people's eating and drinking habits.
In the 1980s I still thought of pop as something special, similar to the way I thought of going to a fast food restaurant once in a while as a special treat. There wasn't as much selection of candies or sodas, and it seems like there was far less focus on them then than now. Now it's not uncommon to hear of people being proud of how much pop they drink.
While pop is bad for teeth, most people don't realize that fruit juice, especially orange juice, can be equally bad.
A three-year CDC study of 16,000 US residents showed 28% of children aged between 2-5 have some form of tooth decay.1
In the UK, tooth decay is the "third most common reason for children to be admitted to [the] hospital."2
These statistics are obviously disturbing and are a window through which we can view a social norm that has gone a little out of control. Lots of factors need to be taken into account, but a few things are obvious: we drink too much pop, too often; we don't brush as often as we should; and we put our kids to bed with bottles of milk, juice, or soda that overnight creates the perfect environment for dental decay.
Soft Drinks Have Gotten Huge
Back in the 1950s (I've heard), soft drinks were a lot smaller than they are today. Going to get a Coke was seen as a special event, and if you've ever seen how small those glass bottles were, you'll know what I'm getting at here.
At the beginning of its mainstream popularity, we'd drink a 6.5 ounce soft drink and be thrilled to death with the experience. Now the standard or "average" size soft drink is 24 ounces--over 3 times larger--and we drink them much more often. Yet this is not the upper limit in size.
Soft drinks in the US have gotten so ridiculously huge that The Onion published a mock news story claiming Coke's newest size was 30 liters. Funny as this may seem, it's unfortunate that we need to joke about this because the results of over-consumption are often devastating.
What Causes Cavities to Form?
While knowledge of oral hygiene and proper preventive measures has greatly improved since the 1950s, the prominence and availability of candy, pop, and junk food has skyrocketed since then. More than ever, it's important to learn about the foods and drinks that can harm our teeth and bodies, and learn to promote better eating and oral hygiene habits.
Four ingredients are needed for tooth decay to begin:
- Oral bacteria
All four of these ingredients need to be present for tooth decay to begin. Oral bacteria (Strep. mutans) are present in the mouth naturally. Food, especially carbohydrates, breaks down into sugar. Bread starts to break down in the mouth right away, giving off a sweet taste, for example. Acid comes in the form of soft drinks, citric acid, etc.
What happens when all these ingredients combine? Oral bacteria consume sugar and expel lactic acid into the oral cavity. This lactic acid leaches calcium phosphate crystals from the teeth, causing soft spots (white spot lesions) in the protective enamel coating of the teeth.
At this point, the teeth can either continue to be leached of calcium phosphate crystals, or else can begin to remineralize and reverse the decay process. Toothpastes (OTC or prescription) help remineralize teeth, as do some mouth rinses like ACT Restoring Mouthwash.
Saliva naturally restores oral pH and helps remineralize the teeth, but be aware that saliva flow decreases at night and when taking certain medications. Reversing the decay process only works in the initial stages of decay before an actual cavity forms.
Sip All Day, Get Decay
To make this all a little more complex, what research has found is that each time we sip a sugary drink, there is an "acid attack" on our teeth for 16-20 minutes.
Each new sip we take, the clock starts over. So if it takes me an hour to finish a can of Coke, my teeth have been sloshing around in acid for an hour and 20 minutes.
Obviously, it's better to gulp the drink down and be done with it, preferably with a meal. Now that we know that both sugar and acid affect our likelihood of developing cavities, let's look at a helpful list of the worst drinks for your teeth.
Top 10+ Worst Drinks for Your Teeth
More than 10 drinks are listed here for your convenience. It's difficult to rate them, as we have to take into account both the sugar and acid content to judge how they'll affect the teeth.
Any 10 of these drinks are bad news for teeth unless efforts are taken to minimize their effects.
Other Drinks that Contribute to Tooth Decay
These drinks are sugary, acidic, or both.
- Dairy milk (slightly acidic, very sugary)
- Goat milk (slightly acidic, sugary)
- Soy milk (slightly acidic, potentially sugary)
- Energy drinks (very acidic, very sugary)
- Protein shakes (sugary)
- Wine (very acidic, very sugary)
- Beer (acidic, sugary)
- Tea (very acidic, potentially sugary)
- Coffee (very acidic, potentially sugary)
- Smoothies (very acidic, very sugary)
- All fruit juices (very acidic, very sugary)
- Some bottled waters (slightly acidic, potentially sugary)
- Carbonated beverages (very acidic, potentially sugary)
Were you aware that these drinks can contribute to tooth decay?
How to Minimize the Damage
- Brushing your teeth after each meal is the best way to decrease the likelihood of developing cavities
- Swishing your mouth out with water after drinking these beverages can help decrease the amount of acid contacting the teeth
- Chewing sugar-free gum or anything with xylitol will also help minimize the damage
- Drink sugary and acidic beverages with meals, and never before bedtime unless you plan to brush your teeth before sleeping
- Using a straw also helps decrease contact of these drinks with the teeth
- Other drinks that contribute to tooth decay (sugary, acidic, or both): dairy milk, soy milk, energy drinks, protein shakes, wine, beer, tea, coffee, smoothies, all fruit juices, some bottled waters
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Kate P