When trying to make a healthier choice for your mouth, you might think juice would be better than soda. However, research is showing that “healthier” choices like juice, diet soda, and even tea are not much better than sugary soft drinks. These types of drinks are exposing the teeth to tooth decaying acids, causing dental erosion that leads to cavities and other health problems.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, a substantial proportion of adults have dental erosion. Researchers say that anything with a pH value (the measure of acidity) lower than 5.5 can damage the teeth. If consumed too much, diet and regular sodas, carbonated drinks, flavored fizzy waters, sports drinks, fruit and fruit juices can be be harmful to teeth.
What causes dental erosion?
Dental erosion occurs when the enamel (the hard, protective coating on your teeth) is eaten away by acids in our food or drink. Our mouths are full of hundreds of different types of bacteria. Both helpful and harmful bacteria live on the teeth, gums, and tongue. Tooth decay has 2 main culprits: Sugar and acid.
Tooth decay is caused by a certain kind of bacteria that causes an infection as it uses sugar to make acids. Thus, the more sugar you consume, the more acids are produced, which over time creates a cavity in the tooth. Natural fruit juices while not having any added sugar or high fructose corn syrup are still high in sugars due to their concentrated nature. For example, one 8-ounce cup of fresh orange juice has 21 grams of sugar and 112 calories. By comparison, one medium orange has 12 grams of sugar and only 62 calories.
When you eat or drink something acidic, the enamel in your teeth is temporarily softened. Frequent exposure to acid eats away at the protective layer on your teeth.
Every time your teeth are exposed to anything acidic or sugary, the enamel loses some of its mineral content. To get it back to it’s natural balance, your saliva will slowly cancel out the acidity by re-mineralizing the enamel. But when acid attacks occur frequently, bits of enamel are brushed away and lost before your mouth has a chance to repair itself.
Fruits like grapefruits, oranges, and lemons are loaded with acids that wear down tooth enamel. When they are concentrated down into juice, drinking it exposes your teeth to more damaging amounts of acidity. In fact, research has found that orange juice has the capacity to decrease enamel hardness by 84%. “We encourage adults if they’re going to have kids drink fruit juices, which is good in a way, that they consume it all at once instead of sipping on it all day long,” Stanford said.
However, this doesn’t mean you should stop consuming juice altogether. After all, natural juices are packed with vitamins and antioxidants that your body needs. Instead of sipping juice throughout the day, reduce its exposure to your mouth by drinking it in one sitting. You can also look for juices fortified with calcium to help strengthen the enamel on your teeth.
Foods and Drinks that Protect Against Tooth Decay:
Milk contains phosphorus, calcium, and casein which all help strengthen teeth and stop decay. Plus, the sugar found in milk is lactose, which does not promote decay as much as other sugars because it produces less acids.
Cheese helps defend your teeth against decay because it stimulates saliva production. It’s best consumed after a sugary snack to prevent an increase in acidity. Plus, its high calcium content influences the recalcifying of teeth.
Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are not nearly as harmful as the processed sugars found in soda and energy drinks. Fibrous plant foods protect teeth by stimulating saliva production.
“Water and milk are the best choices by far, not only for the good of our oral health but our overall health too,” says Dr. Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. “Remember, it is how often we have sugary foods and drinks that causes the problem so it is important that we try and reduce the frequency of consumption.”
How to protect teeth against erosion:
1. Stick to natural Sugars
Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth with processed sugary beverages and treats, stick to natural and healthy beverages and foods. You can easily juice your own fruit and veggies to create a sweet and satisfying drink. Just remember that’s it’s best when consumed all at once instead of frequent sips throughout the day. That way, you can limit the exposure of sugar and acid to your teeth.
2. Sip smart with Soda
If you’re going to consume soda and other sugary beverages, be smart about it to keep your teeth protected. Limit the amount you drink (maybe stick to one small soda a day instead of one per meal). Use a straw so that your teeth aren’t immersed in the liquid, and take sips of water between drinks to reduce the acidity in your mouth.
3. Keep your sugary snacks to a minimum.
It’s understandable that you might need a pick-me-up snack in the afternoon as you wrap up a workday. But it’s best for your oral health that you limit the amount of sugary snacks to reduce acid attacks. Also, don’t eat for at least for an hour before bedtime. During the night, low salivary rates during sleep reduce the ability to neutralize acid.
4. More tips to protect your teeth:
- Never suck on lemons, limes or any highly acidic fruit. Putting these fruits against your teeth for any period of time is a sure way to soften the enamel on your teeth.
- Rinse with water after eating fruit to dilute the acids in your mouth, and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to give your enamel time to resettle.
- Keep your enamel strong by brushing with fluoridated toothpaste.
- Eat cheese after your fruit. This raises the pH levels in your mouth and increases saliva production, which also helps neutralize acids. The AGD also holds that certain compounds in cheese adhere to tooth enamel, protecting it from various acids in your food.