The foods and drinks that pass by your lips can have a dramatic impact on your health, starting from the first moment they enter your mouth.
The effect that beverages have on your teeth depends on several things, but it’s primarily determined by overall acidity. Anything that measures 5.5 or less on the pH scale is considered acidic.
Acidic foods and drinks soften tooth enamel, which makes teeth sensitive and vulnerable to damage, such as cavities. Drinks that are high in both acid and sugar have the potential to be doubly damaging.
How can we protect our teeth?
In order to minimise the risk of damage to teeth, Stevens says it is important to reduce the number of times we consume sugary foods and drinks per day and avoid grazing, as this does not give the mouth time to recover between sugar hits.
It is better to drink a can of coke in one sitting, rather than sipping it throughout the day. She also recommends brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and drinking through a straw where possible to limit a liquid’s contact with teeth – but make sure it isn’t a plastic straw, see our non-plastic straw alternatives.
“For young kids, whose first teeth have thinner enamel, only milk and water are safe drinks between meals,” she says.
Find out how favorite food and drinks affect teeth
Besides the “coffee breath” we all dread after our morning (or afternoon) cup of joe, coffee can stain teeth, which creates a sticky environment that plaque loves to build on. If you can’t take it black and need a little cream to lighten it up or a packet of sugar to make it sweeter, this, unfortunately, does not help. Adding sugar allows for more plaque build-up.
If you’re like most people who can’t live without coffee, some ways to avoid staining and plaque include rinsing your mouth with water, brushing your teeth and avoiding drinking it all day.
2. Sparkling Water
Sparkling water does not contain the sugar associated with other fizzy drinks, such as cola, so is often perceived as healthy as it is unlikely to cause decay.
However, any fizzy drink gets its sparkle from carbonic acid, which is erosive. Because of this, Stevens says sparkling water should only be consumed occasionally and at mealtimes.
While there isn’t a lot of data on how beer affects your teeth, some evidence suggests that it could actually be beneficial.
“Some very early research has shown that hops, a common component of beer, may have some positive effects on oral health and cavity protection. But it’s too early to be sure,” explains Shein.
4. Fizzy Drinks
n 2013, the most recent figures available, almost a third (31%) of five-year-olds and almost half (46%) of eight-year-olds had tooth decay and this has frequently been linked to the consumption of fizzy drinks.
It’s recommended that children aged four to six have no more than 19g of sugar per day, but some fizzy drinks, such as a standard can of cola, contain more than this.
“Fizzy drinks have no place in the diet of young children,” says Stevens. “For older children or adults, drink as an occasional treat, with a meal and in one go [rather than sipping throughout the day]. Drinking cold and through the straw will minimize erosive damage.”
A nice glass of orange juice is refreshing in the morning and a great source of Vitamin C. Even a squeeze of lemon or lime in your water adds a nice taste but can expose your teeth to the acid these fruits contain. Citrus foods have a lot of acidity that can erode the enamel on your teeth, causing decay over time.
The secret to avoiding tooth enamel erosion is drinking a glass of water or brushing your teeth after you consume foods with high acidity. If you choose to brush, wait at least 30 minutes after consumption.
Since the acid has softened the enamel, brushing right away doesn’t allow your saliva enough time to neutralize the pH and re-strengthen your tooth, risking brushing away tooth structure.
When it comes to wine, red is better for dental health, but no variety is necessarily good for your teeth.
“White wine is more acidic than red and is, therefore, more efficient at destroying your enamel, leaving you more susceptible to discoloration and staining,” explains Dr. Angelika Shein, a New York-based dentist.
What does tea do to your teeth? It depends what kind of tea you’re talking about.
According to Dr. Shein, brewed teas typically have a pH above 5.5, which is out of the danger zone. Green tea may even have positive effects on gum health and decay prevention.
“However, when you start talking about iced teas, things change,” she says. “Most iced teas have very low pH, in the range of 2.5 to 3.5, and are loaded with sugar. Some popular brands of brewed iced teas have been shown to be much worse than most sodas.”
Vodka has a pH around 4, but in some cases can be as high as 8. Less expensive brands of vodka tend to have a lower pH, while premium vodkas tend to have a higher pH. With that in mind, many vodkas are definitely within the range of potential damage.
Alcohol also has a drying effect. Saliva is one of the mouth’s natural defenses against damage, so anything over moderate consumption could be harmful.
Other liquors vary widely in terms of pH, but the drying effects are the same, and they’re further compounded because people (usually) sip their drinks slowly, which gives the alcohol more time to do its damage.
9. Fruit punch
Juice drinks labeled as “fruit punch” are typically not actual juice. They are mostly sugar or high fructose corn syrup. As such, any redeeming qualities found in actual juice are absent in these imitators, and they have additional sugar to worsen dental effects. Also, it turns out the pH of most fruit drinks are under 3, making them a poor choice all around.
10. Fruit Juice And Smoothies
Fruit juice and smoothies are often marketed as healthy options because they can contribute towards your five-a-day, but according to Stevens, we should be cautious about our consumption drinks as they contain both sugar and acid.
“The combination means that tooth enamel is softened and if this happens frequently, through regular sipping throughout the day, it will erode the enamel,” she says. “Over time, teeth will reduce in size and become more susceptible to decay.
My recommendation is to drink these only with a meal and in moderation. A straw helps too as the liquid bypasses the teeth.”
It isn’t only bad for your waistline! Soft drinks can do a number on your teeth. And while common sense may tell you the sugar-free varieties aren’t so bad, science says otherwise.
“Studies have shown really no difference in enamel dissolution between diet and regular sodas within the same brand, so sugar content doesn’t really tell the whole story,” says Dr. Keith Arbeitman, Shein’s colleague. “Acidity and overall composition of the beverage seems to play an important part in breaking down enamel.”
Interestingly, Arbeitman says root beer scores “surprisingly well” compared to other sodas, “having virtually the same net effect on your teeth as tap water.”
Water doesn’t really have a net impact on your teeth, says Shein. If anything, it’s helpful.
“In fact, staying well-hydrated increases salivary flow and the flow of protective minerals within the saliva that protect the teeth from decay,”
“Numerous components of milk, including proteins and minerals such as calcium, inhibit attachment and growth of many cavity-forming bacteria in your mouth,” says Shein.
“With a pH above 6.5, milk is a great choice to keep your teeth strong and healthy.”