Beyond the potential for weight gain resulting from the sugar (or high fructose corn syrup often substituted for sugar) in soft drinks, soda has become one of the most significant dietary sources of tooth decay today. Acids in the soda, combined with the acidic sugar byproducts caused when enzymes in your mouth digest the sugar in the soda as you drink it, can result in the softening of the enamel on your teeth. This softening of your tooth enamel contributes to the formation of cavities. Long-term consumption of soft drinks has a cumulative effect on tooth enamel. Prolonged exposure to soft drinks can lead to significant enamel loss.
While the acids and sugars contained in fruit juices, ciders, and wine can also reduce the surface hardness of tooth enamel, research indicates that soda is much more damaging per unit consumed. Research has shown that the erosive potential of soda is 10 times that of fruit juices. Further research reports that drinking any type of soft drink damages teeth due to the citric acid and/or phosphoric acid in the beverages. Citric acid is the most erosive acid found in soft drinks and is the most common acid found in non-cola drinks.
Saliva provides a natural defense mechanism, and regular tooth brushing also helps remove the damaging acids. However, typical soft drink consumption – drinking from large (i.e., 20 ounce) beverage containers over a long period of time – gives teeth a fresh coating over time as you consume the soft drink.
Diet Soda Isn’t Any Better for Your Teeth Than Regular Soda
The problem with soda isn’t so much the sugar itself, it’s the acidity. Drinking sugar free sodas is not the solution since they contain similar levels of acid – diet sodas are as acidic as sugary soft drinks. Diet sodas may reduce your calories consumed but they aren’t much better for your teeth.
What You Can Do
You can benefit from reducing the number of soft drinks you consume as well as from proper dental care. Steps you can take:
Sodas are tough on your teeth. You don’t need to stop drinking all soft drinks but by reducing the amount you drink, practicing good oral hygiene, and seeking help from your dentist, you can largely counteract sodas effects and enjoy better dental health.
Dr. Lily Ling received her DMD from Tufts Dental School and completed an advanced education in general dentistry (AEGD) residency at UConn Health Center.