We are a little more than halfway through the year, so it’s time to revisit those New Year’s resolutions. Did you resolve to cut back on soda? Or switch to sugar-free drinks instead? We think a lot about the effects of these drinks on our figure, but what about our teeth?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the effects of sugar-filled and sugar-free drinks on dental health and talk about some strategies for keeping our teeth at their best.
A lot of different health problems are attributed to sugar, so in general, it’s best to save your sweet tooth for special occasions. Weight gain, tiredness, difficulty focusing, and acne-prone skin are just a few of the adverse side effects of eating too many sweets. If these results aren’t what you’re looking for, you might have to start making some changes to your diet.
What does sugar do to your teeth?
In addition to all of those other health pitfalls, too much sugar can destroy your teeth. It can take up to an hour after you eat anything (sugary or otherwise) for your saliva to restore your mouth to a neutral pH. Maintaining a neutral pH is important because the more acidic your food is, the more wear it causes to your teeth. The more worn down your teeth get, the higher your risk for tooth decay, cavities, and other oral health issues.
To put things into perspective, perfectly distilled water has a pH level of 7, which means that it is completely neutral. The smaller that number, the more acidic the food is that you’re eating. For instance, milk is only slightly more acidic than water at 6.9, but orange juice is significantly more acidic at 3.8. Cola drinks go down even further to 2.5 with vinegar coming in at a pH of 2.0. A non-food item that is extremely low on the pH scale is battery acid, which manifests at a 1.0 on the pH scale.
While pH is important to understand, sugar does something else to your teeth: it creates food for the bacteria that cause decay. When these little bacteria gobble up the sugar left in-between your teeth, they get rid of waste in the form of additional acid. This acid then wears down your teeth.
Sugary drinks in all their forms – sparkling or still, fruit juice or sweet tea, sports drinks or soda pop – should be consumed sparingly and even then, you should follow up with a chaser of good, old-fashioned still water or milk. As mentioned above, some 100% fruit juices contain substantial amounts of natural sugar and have a low pH which can be problematic. But isn’t OJ healthy? The answer is yes, but not for your teeth.
If you drink fruit juices on a regular basis, you don’t have to cut them out entirely, but you might want to make some simple modifications. Try diluting your juice with 50% water and 50% juice and then down to 75% water and 25% juice. You’ll still get the sweet taste you love with fewer calories and sugars interacting with your teeth. You can go even further by infusing regular water with freshly cut strawberries, pineapple, and orange slices. This will give you a fruity taste while keeping your pH as close to neutral as possible.
Is Sugar-free better?
Diet soda, while better for your waistline, doesn’t keep your teeth much safer than sugary drinks. These drinks often make up for the lack of sugar by including other acids. Certain studies have even shown that there is little difference between the decay caused by sugary drinks and the decay caused by sugar-free drinks.
When should you consume sugar? (Since you most likely will anyway…)
Because it takes your mouth about an hour to do a factory reset, if you’re going to eat or drink sugary foods, you should do so during regular mealtimes. Stay away from constantly snacking because it doesn’t give your mouth the time it needs to get rid of the harmful bacteria that live there. If you are going to snack, choose foods that will help restore your mouth to a neutral pH and get saliva moving. Eating foods like fibrous vegetables, cheese cubes, nuts, and chewing sugar-free gum are all good options when you have the munchies.
What else can I do?
As always, to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible, you should practice good oral hygiene habits. Wait at least an hour after eating to brush your teeth. That way, you won’t spread the acids from food around so that they can erode your protective enamel. Give your saliva some time to neutralize the acids, then brush. You should brush twice daily and floss once. Use a fluoride toothpaste, rinse with a dentist-approved mouthwash, and, of course, visit your dentist every six months for a routine check-up.
Maintaining a healthy mouth is more than having a dazzling smile (though that is definitely a perk). Healthy teeth and gums mean fewer cavities and problems down the line. They also mean less discomfort, dental visits, and costly procedures. The long and short of it is this: a healthy smile means a healthy, more confident you.