Q: I’ve heard that regular (sugar sweetened) soft drinks cause erosion of tooth enamel. As long as I limit soft drinks to sports drinks and diet soda, do I have to worry?
A: Yes, all these drinks can threaten the enamel layer that protects teeth. Research shows it is the acidity of these drinks that causes erosion of tooth enamel. The drinks’ acidity comes mainly from the citric acid, sodium citrate and phosphoric acid added to both cola and non-cola soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Regular colas tend to be most acidic, but the others are all significantly more acidic than plain water. And studies generally show no difference in tooth enamel erosion between sugar-sweetened and sugar-free soft drinks. Even lemonade, wine and nutrient-rich fruit juices (orange, apple, grape) are more acidic than water. When the enamel protecting teeth is eroded, that leaves teeth more vulnerable to developing cavities and can lead to irreversible loss of tooth minerals and structure. To protect your teeth, limit all of these acidic drinks. Even more important than the total amount you drink is the total time teeth are exposed to these acids. Extended sipping over long periods leaves teeth exposed to more acid than when such drinks are consumed in a short period. You might drink some water to rinse your mouth after any of these acid-containing drinks, but wait at least 30 minutes to brush your teeth; otherwise, you worsen damage by physically abrading enamel when acids have softened it. Another reason for avoiding or minimizing sugar-sweetened drinks and limiting portions of fruit juice is to help weight management.