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Acidic and Sugary Drinks Contribute to Decay
While knowledge of oral hygiene and preventive measures have greatly improved since the 1950s, the prominence and availability of candy, pop, and junk food have skyrocketed. More than ever, it's important to promote better eating and oral hygiene habits and learn about the foods and drinks that can harm our teeth and bodies.
It's difficult to rate all the drinks that cause tooth decay—between juice, soda, and milk, there's a lot to choose from. We have to take into account both the sugar and acid content to judge how they'll affect the teeth.
|Drink||Acid Content||Sugar Content|
Depends on brand
Depends on personal preference
Depends on personal preference
Depends on brand
Depends on brand
How Does Tooth Decay Occur?
Four ingredients are involved in the creation of tooth decay:
- Oral bacteria (Strep. mutans), which are naturally present in the mouth
- Sugar, from drinks or food (especially carbohydrates, which quickly break down into sugar)
- Acid, from soft drinks, citric acid, coffee, tea, etc.
What Happens When 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 (also known as white spot lesions) in the protective enamel of the teeth.
At this point, the teeth can either continue to be leached of calcium phosphate crystals, or they can begin to remineralize, which will reverse the decay process. OTC or prescription toothpaste help remineralize the 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
Research has found that each time we sip a sugary drink, there is an "acid attack" on our teeth for 16 - 20 minutes. With each new sip we take, the clock starts over—if it takes me an hour to finish a can of Coke, my teeth will have been soaking in acid for an hour and 20 minutes.
As you can see, it's better to gulp the drink down and be done with it, preferably with a meal.
How to Minimize the Damage From Sugary Drinks
- Brushing your teeth after each meal is the best way to decrease the likelihood of cavities.
- Swishing water around your mouth out after drinking these beverages can help decrease the amount of acid in contact with the teeth.
- Chewing sugar-free gum or anything with xylitol will help minimize the damage.
- Using a straw can help decrease contact between the drink and your teeth.
- Drink sugary and acidic beverages with meals, and never have them before bedtime (unless you plan to brush your teeth before sleeping).
The Prevalence of Cavities
I don't know about you, but in the few decades I've been alive, I've noticed a huge change in people's eating and drinking habits. Back in the 1980s, I still thought of pop as something special, similar to how going to a fast food restaurant once in a while was a special treat. There wasn't such a big selection of candies or sodas, and it seemed like they didn't get as much attention as they do now. It's not uncommon to hear people talk proudly of how much pop they drink.
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Serving Sizes Have Gotten Bigger
Back in the 1950s, soft drinks were a lot smaller than they are today. A Coke was something for a special event—have you seen how small those glass bottles were? At the beginning of soda's popularity, we'd drink a 6.5-ounce soft drink and be thrilled with the experience. Now the standard soft drink size is 24 ounces—over 3 times the size—and we drink them much more often. Unfortunately, even this isn't the upper size limit.
Soft drinks in the US have gotten so ridiculously huge that The Onion, a satirical news site, published a fake news story claiming Coke's newest size was 30 liters. Funny as this may seem, it's unfortunate that we can joke about this—the results of over-consumption are often devastating.
Soda Is Not the Only Culprit
While pop is bad for the 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 that 28% of children between 2 - 5 years of age 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 disturbing and show us that this social norm 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 create the perfect environment for dental decay overnight.
- Prevalence Of Tooth Decay1
- The Telegraph (UK)2
- The Merck Manual
- Missouri Dentistry
- CDC Study of 16,000 Americans
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2011 Kate P
Shyron E Shenko from Texas on December 13, 2015:
Kate, thank you for the information. I love water and drink lots, and I drink a lot of coffee, and aware of the acid. Also the acid in any fruit drink.
This is an informative article.
Blessings and Merry Christmas
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on August 24, 2015:
Thanks for all of your comments. Mom was indeed likely right.. after all lol
Parker Boudreau on October 17, 2014:
Well I guess this means that mom was right. The hard part is that soda is so stinking delicious. I have tried to quit that habit for years. The big difference now is that as an adult i know the danger and brush my teeth a lot better than when i was a kid. I hope it balances out. http://www.cdcsmiles.com
haylee l on January 27, 2014:
thanks faceless now i have info for my science fair prodject
Avinesh Prahladi from Chandigarh on January 12, 2014:
This is a great and informative hub. thanks Faceless39, for letting us know as how drinks can be dangerous for our teeth.
Quotes Lover on January 09, 2014:
A helpful article
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on August 28, 2012:
Pop really is best avoided if possible, both for the dental issues it causes, as well as the overall physiological changes it causes and carcinogenic nature of the ingredients.
I admit I have one once in a while, but it's definitely not a lifestyle thing, and it sounds like you've changed yours as well. Bravo!
Thanks for the wonderful comment.
Peter V from At the Beach in Florida on August 28, 2012:
Wow, lots of interesting information. I have been drinking less and less soda over the last year or so because it just isn't good for you. Now that I read this hub, I don't think I ever want soda again! Good info. Voted up !
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 23, 2012:
The sugar and acid chart has 10 of the worst drinks, plus more. It's difficult to categorize them since they contain more or less acid, more or less sugar. Thanks for the comment.
JC221 on January 23, 2012:
What happened to the top 10 drinks? Did I skip over it somewhere?
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on January 07, 2012:
Water really is the best beverage, I agree. Though I admit I have a pop once in a while!
It's not just the sugar and acid; it's also the coloring, the preservatives, and all the other junk they put in there as well. It's good once in a while, but water is always good!
Justsilvie on November 04, 2011:
Excellent Hub! Learned something new. Glad I love water.
katyzzz from Sydney, Australia on October 22, 2011:
Great hub, I think I'll just stick to water, and forget the carbs, a sound warning.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 20, 2011:
Thanks for the fantastic comments--it's always great to know that others appreciate the work put into these things. If I make the difference in one person's life, I've done my job. @ktrapp, great idea about the school lunches hub. @caitmo, you are totally right! "It's never too late!" @Sunshine, I'm really glad you learned about the acid attack!! :) Thanks again!
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on October 19, 2011:
I pressed the green button! Great hub, I never thought about sipping a soda and the acid attack! Ewww. I do chew the sugar free gum! Thanks for the info :)
caitmo1 from Lancashire England on October 18, 2011:
I wish I had read this 60 years ago!
As a child I loved sweets and anything sugary - I even had 'sugar butties' - that's bread buttered thickly and sugar on top! Even though sweets were rationed for many years after the war I still managed to get some. My teeth have more fillings and veneers, crowns etc than I would like but I am careful now - it's never too late.
A good article.
Kristin Trapp from Illinois on October 13, 2011:
This was really interesting. I grew up drinking well water and cavities were almost a given because of the lack of flouridation. At least we didn't have near as many sugary drinks and snacks. Where I live now the water is flouridated and I've never had a cavity issue since living with treated water and many college-age kids have never had one.
You could also write about what not to pack in school lunches. I have heard that raisins and pretzels are bad because they stay on your teeth. Great hub - voting up and useful.
Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 11, 2011:
Thanks for the awesome comments! And yup, sorry ThoughtSandwiches, Mt. Dew is considered the #1 offender in dental circles. For some reason it attracts caffeine and sugar addicts more than any other beverage. Swish some water after and you'll be fine!
ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on October 10, 2011:
Well crap...Mountain Dew was on the list. I was initially heartened by the fact that Coke was the evil bastard (you know...Mountain Dew being a Pepsi product) however; it would appear they are all in cahoots! I can see that you have not been wasting your time in dental school stuff!
Kay Mitchell from California on October 10, 2011:
Good to know. I haven't kicked my bad smoking habit, so my teeth definitely get enough damage. I'll be sure to limit my drinking of these.
MattyLeeP from Tucson, AZ on October 09, 2011:
Wow, thats good to know. Thanks for the info and the tips, I will for sure use this. Going to go rinse my mouth right now with water!
mydubaistay from Dubai on October 09, 2011:
I know fizzy drinks are so harmful but they are so tempting. Its so sad to see our dependency in these drinks.
Admiral_Joraxx from Philippines on October 09, 2011:
Very useful information faceless, then we really needs to watch over the things we drink, It's sad, those which are so enticing for the taste buds are the most tooth damaging. Maybe just a controlled intake will be benificial. I voted up and useful