Did you know that soda has an acidic pH? Dental erosion occurs when acidic foods/beverages come in contact with the tooth causing the surface of the tooth to dissolve or leach out minerals. When teeth are exposed to dietary and/or gastric acids on a regular basis, the erosion can gradually progress from the outer enamel surface to the inner dentin layer. For many, this causes hot and cold sensitivity, an increased risk for dental decay, and possible tooth loss.
Recent studies show an increase in dental erosion, especially among children. This has been attributed to a significant increase in soft drink (regular and diet) consumption. In general, the pH range for soda is 2.0-4.0. Pepsi and Coke, have a pH of 2.7 (diet and regular). Dental erosion begins when the pH drops to less than 5.5 and occurs within minutes after taking a sip of soda. Sports drinks are also notorious for having a low pH (e.g. Gatorade has a pH of 2.8). Unfortunately, many people sip these drinks on a regular basis throughout the day allowing chronic exposure to acid.
Although both diet and regular soda can cause dental erosion, regular soda has an added concern since its high sugar content can also cause dental decay. Unfortunately, as many well know, dental decay is painful, costly to repair, weakens the tooth even after a filling is placed, and is a leading cause of tooth loss. Soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar (40 g) per can and is the largest source of added sugar in the American diet. The American Heart Association currently recommends less than 6 teaspoons and less than 9 teaspoons of added sugar daily for women and men, respectively.
Unfortunately, the sweet taste of soda and its caffeine content can make it addictive. In fact, many report withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. Obviously, unsuccessful attempts to quit further support a multi-billion dollar industry that shows little concern for the oral and general health of their customers. It is also obvious that the soda industry’s ridiculously large profit margin, from bubbly sugar water with added chemicals, is their top priority.
So what can we do? If you think you may be addicted to soda, start by gradually reducing your intake each day to help prevent withdrawal symptoms. Drink water after soda to help neutralize the acid. Begin substituting more healthful beverages such as unsweetened ice tea with fresh mint leaves or filtered/sparkling water with pieces of fresh fruit added. These drinks can be very refreshing without the risk of dental erosion or decay! However, remember that behavior change is a slow process. Be patient with yourself, set realistic goals, and reward yourself when you succeed!
Anne L. Hague, PhD, MS, RD, LD, RDH, CLT