Oral bacteria are a leading cause of tooth decay, but acidic drinks are also confirmed contributors to cavities in teeth. Called “caries” by dentists, these pits, holes and fissures are spots where the enamel has progressively worn away due to 1) bacteria living off food particles, or 2) acidic substances in contact with your teeth. When caused by soft drinks, especially those containing citric acid, the disease is popularly called “Mountain Dew Mouth.” Is this common soft drink, and others like it, really capable of wearing away your seemingly solid teeth?
Perhaps you’ve seen a school science fair experiment where a student takes a pulled tooth and soaks it in soda pop to see what happens. Over a number of days, the tooth will completely wear away due to acids in the beverage. All of the popular sweetened beverages are extremely acidic, but some people think that teas or diet drinks do not subject a patient to caries.
To figure out which drinks are the greatest enemies to your enamel, a pair of researchers put a large variety of drinks to the test in a carefully controlled scientific experiment published in Operative Dentistry. What they discovered about soft drinks and enamel wear is important for our patients at the Sacramento Dentistry Group. First, while acid damages your teeth, a drink with higher acid content does not necessarily break down your teeth faster. Second, diet drinks may not feed bacteria with sugar, but they still destroy your teeth. Third, sweet teas are not a dentally safe substitute for sodas, since they are just as hazardous to enamel as the worst offenders in the world of soda pop.
The popular belief that Mountain Dew is the most destructive drink for your teeth was demonstrated to be true. Over fourteen days of constant exposure (considered the equivalent of thirteen years for the average soda drinker), Diet Mountain Dew wore away eight percent of the average tooth, while regular Mountain Dew destroyed six percent. Right behind them at nearly five percent was Arizona iced teas. While all three drinks had an acid pH in the low 3’s, (Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are all around 2.5 pH), they did far more damage to the teeth than their competitors with higher acid contents.
Teeth left in tap water experienced no average loss over fourteen days, likely due to remineralization. Quite unexpectedly, root beer had the same result. Unsweetened tea and coffee also did very little damage to enamel during the study (although these substances may stain your teeth). All other beverages did moderate to major damage to the teeth over the study period.
The doctors’ conclusions were that non-cola drinks (including sweet teas and, we would like to add, sports drinks) do far more damage than cola drinks. In the absence of bacteria, diet drinks still create as much decay, if not more, than sugary drinks. All types of soft drinks, with the exception of root beer, did far more damage to enamel than unsweetened tea, coffee and ordinary water.
How should this affect your drinking habits? Sipping soft drinks throughout the day, instead of only drinking them with meals, is very damaging. When the acidic liquids are constantly reintroduced to the mouth, the saliva has little opportunity to wash them off the surface of the teeth. If you drink acidic drinks, especially those containing citric acid, it is best to rinse the mouth with water or to chew some xylitol sweetened gum afterwards. Consider sweetened drinks as a beverage for meals, instead of a source of hydration. By far, water is the best fluid for your teeth since it rinses them while providing a base component of saliva to your body. The last word is to beware of the enemies of your enamel!