John C. Chao, D.D.S.

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press

Killing Your Teeth Softly And Sweetly With Soft Drinks

Phosphoric acid and citric acid from soft drinks combined with acid generated from sugar by oral bacteria are softly and sweetly killing children's and adult's teeth and their general health. According to an article published in Northwest Dentistry Americans spend over $54 billion per year to buy 14 billion gallons of soft drinks. On the average each man, woman and child consume more than 56 gallons per year, or one-and-a-half 12 ounce cans per day. This horrendous amount of nutrition-less intake has caused the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to urge all schools to ban the sale of soft drinks that are sold via vending machines, even though such sales substantially increase revenue for the schools. AAP is concerned that habitual consumption of sugar displaces the principal source of calcium, which is found in milk. Lack of calcium during the growing years increases the risk of osteoporosis in adulthood. But just as serious is AAP's concern that heavy consumption of soft drinks increases the risk of obesity, the most prevalent medical condition in childhood.

Dentists are becoming just as concerned that over-consumption of soft drinks by children and teenagers may increase the rate of dental disease in the American population. It is well-known that sugar in the oral cavity leads to cavities. However, it is not the sugar that directly inflicts the damage. It's the acidic by-product of bacterial fermentation of dietary sugars that demineralizes the enamel, which forms the hard outer shell of the tooth. Over time this demineralization process dissolves the enamel, leaving behind what is known as a cavity. This process of enamel demineralization is more likely to occur between the ages of 8 and 17 because enamel has not been completely "hardened" as yet by saliva which bathes the teeth with acid-resistant ions. Thus dietary sugars of any kind expose the child/teenager to a higher risk of dental cavities.

What is not generally known, however, is that the acids contained in soft drinks can do just as much damage to the enamel, even in the absence of sugar. These acids directly dissolve immature enamel and accelerate the dissolution of mineral matter in the enamel. So even acids from "diet" soft drinks in large quantities over time can lead to cavities.

To minimize the risk soft drinks softening the enamel the following are recommended:

  • Drink soft drinks in moderation
  • Swish out your mouth with water to dilute the sugar and acid, or, better yet, brush and floss your teeth thoroughly when possible.
  • Use a straw to keep the fluid from your teeth.
  • Never consume soft drinks (or juices) at bedtime.
  • Don't sip; gulp it down to decrease time of acidic exposure.
  • See your dentist regularly to have acid-producing plaque removed.
  • Consult your dentist regarding preventive care such as sealants or fluoride treatment

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