Dentists and hygienists say it all the time: “Don’t drink so much soda.” Or, they ask you not to drink it at all.
You know they have your best interests at heart, but is this old-fashioned advice out of date? Do newer sodas damage your teeth or is it just an old wives tale?
The truth is that sodas damage your smile more than almost anything else. Here’s why:
Acids and pH Levels
Saliva has an average pH of about 6.7, making it a neutral balance between alkaline and acidic. Root beer is usually the soda that’s considered to be the least acidic, but still, it has a pH that hovers around 4.0. Other sodas are even worse (and believe it or not, most sports drinks hover between 2.6-3.4.)
It All Starts with Erosion
Over the decades, some people have touted soda as a great way to clean the battery terminals in your car. Imagine then, if you exposed your teeth to that same acidic substance on a regular basis? Your teeth would begin to erode.
Tooth erosion usually appears as a thinning of the enamel, leaving it smooth and glossy looking. We frequently see this on people who suck lemons or have an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa. If the enamel thins too much, it looks discolored, feels sensitive, and is prone to breaking down.
Sugar…and More Sugar
The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when discussing whether or not soda is bad for teeth, is sugar consumption. Most bottles of soda contain far larger amounts of sugar than what the public realizes.
We know that sugar is linked with cavities, but here’s the how and why: when sugar enters your mouth, it starts to break down for digestion. Bacterial plaque “eat” the sugars and process them into acidic byproducts, which lead to higher levels of damaging plaque. Because they’re acidic, these products etch away at the outer surfaces of the teeth they come into contact with.
Contact Time with Your Teeth
The acidic byproducts produced by sugar mixing with your saliva remain active for approximately 30 minutes. During that half hour is when the enamel damage occurs.
Sipping on a soda throughout the afternoon or during a movie can extend the length of time your teeth are exposed to acid. If you were to drink the soda with a meal, it would be consumed in a limited timeframe and minimized by some of the food. But drinking it over the span of 1-2 hours means you’re consistently reapplying more acid-causing particles to your teeth.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, how frequent soda drinking is a recipe for dental disaster.
Liquids Reach Hard to Clean Areas
Mouthwash is meant to reach and flush away bacteria in areas that a toothbrush and floss can’t easily reach. Being that it’s a liquid, this is very easy.
Obviously, soda is also a liquid. As such, it flows across all surfaces of the teeth — especially between them and in the deep grooves on the chewing surfaces — giving it access to areas that solid food might not. This makes soda consumption especially dangerous in regard to increasing the risk of tooth decay.
Is Sugar-Free Soda Any Better?
Believe it or not, sugar free or diet sodas aren’t that much better for your teeth than the traditionally sweetened ones. In most cases, the pH levels are about the same.
With the acid working against your tooth enamel, combined with the side-effects of your saliva breaking down the sweetener, you’ll still see effects from diet soda that you would with traditionally sweetened ones.
When it’s Time to See a Dentist
If you’ve been trying to cut down on your soda consumption or are worried by the “zing” you feel on a tooth each time you drink one, ask your dentist for their opinion. He or she might recommend a fluoride supplement to reverse any demineralizing that has taken place. Plus, they can screen for cavities or erosion that may need to be repaired. More than likely if someone is experiencing symptoms of tooth decay, they will need to go ahead and have some dental work done.
Most dental insurance plans will cover two checkups per year, providing you with plenty of opportunity to get screened for the effects of soda. But many people lack dental insurance through their employer, resulting in delayed care. Fortunately, there are dental savings plans that allow you to save 15-50% on treatments like exams and fillings even if you don’t have traditional dental insurance coverage. The Cigna discount dental options like the ones at Cigna Dental Plans are a great place to start.