Even Some “Healthy” Alternatives to Soda Can Wreck Your Teeth

Most people know that soda is murder for your teeth. (Whether that makes a person think twice about knocking back a Dr. Pepper or Fanta or Coke is another story.) But in the event that you don’t, a quick demonstration:

But the trouble isn’t just with soda. Most beverages that fall under the broad category of soft drinks can be just as brutal: energy drinks, sports drinks, juice and juice-based drinks, flavored coffee and tea drinks…. It’s not just about the sugar. It’s also about how acidic these drinks can be. While sugar feeds the bacteria that cause decay, acids are what destroy tooth enamel, allowing that infection to penetrate more deeply into the tooth.

And as a new study in the Dubai Medical Journal reminds, this can even include drinks that many people often consider to be “healthy” alternatives.

Researchers in the United Arab Emirates analyzed over 300 beverages readily available in that country, many of which are also widely available here in the US (although possibly in slightly different formulations). These included sodas, energy drinks, sparkling water, iced teas, juices, malt beverages, coconut water, and sports drinks. A pH meter was used to test each drink three different times at room temperature.

Nearly 90% of the beverages proved to be highly acidic, with a pH under 4. That’s the level at which tooth damage is likely to happen. Thirty-seven percent were found to be extremely erosive, with a pH under 3. Some of those drinks included Coca-Cola and Coke Zero, Rockstar Punched, and Arizona Arnold Palmer, just to name a few of the products familiar to Americans.

But there were also some surprises. Lemon Pelligrino, for instance, was found to be extremely erosive, while several varieties of Vita Coco were found to lean acidic with pH levels slightly over 5.

And lest you think that these numbers are particular to the UAE and might not apply here, according to a 2016 JADA study of 379 soft drinks, including flavored waters, a full 93% of them had a pH under 4. Thirty-nine percent were found to be extremely erosive.

So, a little worse than drinks in the UAE, actually.

(Another type of drink often considered healthier than others, kombucha, was not included in these studies but can be similarly damaging to your teeth; likewise, smoothies.)

With the days warming up and summertime on the way, we’re all apt to find ourselves reaching more often for cool drinks. As ever, non-sparkling fluoride-free water is your best choice, with spring water running a close second. (Here’s a terrific search tool for understanding the fluoride content of a few hundred brands of bottled water. The site also includes search tools for other products that may contain fluoride.)

Don’t like the flavor of water? Infuse it with some of your favorite fruits – not the juice, which is essentially concentrated sugar and highly acidic, but some slices of the whole fruit itself. Herbs and some veg can be used, as well. You’ll find some delicious combinations to try here and here and here.

If you do opt for soft drinks, try to keep them a once-in-a-while treat. Also consider using a straw, which will necessarily limit the amount of soda (or energy drink or sports drink or…) that comes in contact with your teeth.

And do wait at least 30 minutes after drinking such beverages before brushing your teeth. That’s how long conditions in the mouth stay acidic after you’ve consumed sugary or acidic food or drink. Brushing before then effectively brushes the acids into your teeth.

Let’s say it all together: Ewwwww.

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