Soda Attack: Soft Drinks, Especially Non-colas and Iced Tea, Hurt Hard Enamel
As summer temperatures rise so will people’s thirst. Unfortunately, many people will grab a pop or iced tea instead of water. It isn’t just cola’s empty calories – about 150 per 12-ounce can – you should worry about. Many of these beverages harm enamel, the protective shell around teeth.
A pilot study of the effects some of these beverages had on enamel, appearing in the July/August 2004 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry’s (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal, found that over time, exposing dental enamel to carbonated beverages and non-carbonated canned iced tea weakens and permanently destroys enamel.
Results from the study, which exposed healthy dental enamel to a variety of popular beverages over a period of 14 days, found that non-colas and canned iced tea were especially harmful. They contain flavor additives, such as malic, tartaric and other organic acids, which are more aggressive at eroding teeth. Root beer, which contains the least amount of flavor additives, was found to be the “safest soft drink to safeguard dental enamel.”
About 27 percent of the beverages consumed by Americans are soft drinks, the study notes. Overall soft drink consumption has steadily increased over the years and remains on the rise, contributing to an increase in oral health problems, namely cavities. In 1977, 12- to 19-year-olds drank 16 ounces of soda a day. In 1996, this same age group consumed an average of 28 ounces a day.
Soda consumption has increased from approximately 20 gallons per person per year in 1970 to more than 50 gallons per person per year in 2004. The American Beverage Association has stated that soft drinks account for 28 percent of overall beverage consumption.
Soft drinks and canned beverages are constant features of daily life, and the approximately $50 billion the industry rakes in each year suggests it won’t go away anytime soon. However, soda can be enjoyed in limited quantities. J. Anthony von Fraunhofer, MS, PhD, FADM, FRSC, lead author of the study, says that soda consumed “at meal times is less injurious than when consumed alone and continuous sipping is more harmful than the whole drink taken at one time.”
According to AGD spokesperson Cynthia Sherwood, DDS, soda’s combination of sugar and acidity can be damaging to teeth. Though the level of risk varies from person to person, Dr. Sherwood says, “Repeated exposure of soda through sipping over a long period of time increases the risk of getting a cavity.”
Dr. Sherwood adds that drinking soda through a straw may help reduce the amount of soda that comes into direct contact with the teeth. She also recommends that soda drinkers rinse their mouths out with water after drinking and use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
A typical 12-once can of regular soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Updated: February 2007