When I watch a commercial promoting the ‘refreshing’ and ‘thirst-quenching’ appeal of soft drinks, I can see why so many Americans add them to their daily beverage intake. However, when you know what’s really in those beverages and the havoc they create in your mouth, I hope you’ll start to limit the amount in your grocery cart.
“Soft drinks” are an absurd description for what the contents can do to teeth and gums. Colas can contribute to a number of oral health problems, including an ability to cause cavities and enamel erosion. Yet, most people are unaware of just how erosive the acids from cola can be. Even sugar-free colas can have a similar erosion level as those that are sweetened.
Let’s begin with the manner in which most colas are consumed. Many colas are consumed right from the can or bottle in small swallows that occur over a period of time. Consider that every time you eat or drink something, an acid attack begins in the mouth. This is an initial part of the digestive process and is active for 20 – 30 minutes.
While beneficial to digestion, this acid is pretty potent. So much so, it can even soften tooth enamel. This is why we advise waiting 30 minutes after eating before brushing teeth. The bristles of a tooth brush and abrasiveness of tooth paste can wear down precious tooth enamel. Without the protective covering of enamel, teeth are more vulnerable to decay.
Think about it – if you sip a cola over the course of an hour, the acid flow will last that long and 20 – 30 minutes more. As hard as that is on teeth, imagine adding the sugar and acid from a soft drink to those digestive acids. This leaves teeth in a weakened state for an extended period of time. In this state, teeth are also more likely to become stained by the caramel color in many sodas.
The high acidity of soft drinks comes from phosphoric acid, which is added for flavor. Phosphoric acid is a common ingredient in detergents, fertilizers and industrial cleaners. While most Americans are unaware, its acidity level has been compared to the levels in battery acid. Phosphoric acid is so erosive it can remove rust from aircraft carriers and ships.
With the potency of phosphoric acid mixed with digestive acids in the mouth, it’s no surprise that your teeth are at risk. When the high acid levels erode tooth enamel, you can experience sensitivity to hot and cold, transparent teeth, and teeth that crack or darken along with greater susceptibility to cavities.
Of course, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The U.S. has the highest per-capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks worldwide. The Beverage Marketing Corporation reveals that Americans drink more than 50 gallons of carbonated soft drinks per person each year. In addition to soft drinks, the Beverage Marketing Corporation also tracks the amount of bottled water, tea, fruit drinks, milk, coffee, beer, wine and spirits we consume. Consistently, carbonated soft drinks make up the greatest segment.
What is also ‘behind the scenes’ when the colas ads appear is the fact that they are anything but ‘refreshing.’ In addition to the phosphoric acid in colas, most contain caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic that depletes moisture with some colas just as drying to oral tissues as coffee. It has been shown that drinking soft drinks in hot weather can lead to dehydration and increase the risk of heat stroke.
While many concerns about soft drinks have motivated some schools to remove soda machines, it is largely because of the obesity rate in this country. In the U.S., the percentage of obese children has more than tripled since the 1970s. That’s ‘obese,’ which is beyond fat. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) is categorized as obese. (www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm) In conjunction with the medical profession, dentists are urging parents to closely monitor their family’s intake of colas (including their own!).
Don’t let savvy advertising be to the detriment of your smile. When you need to quench your thirst, reach for bottled water instead. Or, enjoy filtered water flavored with apple, strawberry, cucumber or orange slices.
As you prepare for outdoor gatherings and activities, take note of what is iced down in your cooler. Bottled water versus soft drinks? The wiser choice will protect your smile. You can avoid cavities, tooth erosion, stained teeth and a higher risk of gum disease with this small change to your beverage consumption. And, you’ll save money and time by avoiding dental repairs.
May your smiles this summer be many!