Over the last few decades, there’s been a significant decline in tooth decay world-wide, but a remarkable increase in tooth erosion. It’s been called an “unrecognized epidemic.” The cause of this erosion, in large part, is due to the type and frequency of beverages we’re consuming. The worst part is that most people don’t realize the extent of damage they are causing.
What is Dental Erosion?
Tooth enamel is the hard, outer layer of teeth. It’s the strongest substance in your body and essential for tooth protection. When enamel erodes, you significantly increase your risk of chipping a tooth, tooth decay, and tooth sensitivity (sharp pain that occurs when you brush your teeth, eat, or drink). Erosion of tooth enamel can be difficult to detect, especially in the beginning. Many people don’t realize they have a problem until the damage is in the advanced stages. Most importantly, once your enamel is lost, you can’t get it back. The loss is permanent. Taking care of your enamel, therefore, really matters, especially if you plan to live a long and healthy life and want healthy teeth to accompany you along the way!
Beverages That Can Harm Your Teeth
A major cause of dental erosion is the regular consumption of highly acidic beverages. The acids they contain dissolve hard tooth enamel. In a recent study reported by the American Dental Association, 379 beverages were purchased from stores in Alabama (juices, soft drinks, flavoured waters, teas, sports drinks, and energy drinks). Ninety-three percent of beverages were found to be erosive to teeth and almost 40% were found to be extremely erosive. Dental erosion due to acidic drinks is progressive and directly proportional to exposure time (the longer or more often your teeth come in contact with acids, the more likely erosion will occur). Research from the University of Adelaide, however, also shows that permanent damage to teeth can occur within the first 30 seconds of highly acidic beverages coming into contact with teeth. Choosing your drinks wisely, therefore, is important. Here’s what you need to know:
• Soft Drinks
Soft drinks contain ingredients like phosphoric acid, sodium citrate, citric acid, and tartrates. They’re added for flavour and as preservatives and they’re highly acidic and damaging to teeth. Many people mistakenly believe that drinking diet or sugar-free soft drinks is the answer. Diet drinks may be lower in calories and sugar, but they contain the same acidic ingredients as their regular counterparts. In fact, research reported by the Academy of General Dentistry last year found that diet or sugar-free soft drinks, as a whole, were more erosive to teeth than sugar-containing soft drinks (although both were definitely bad!).
• Fruit Juice, Fruit Drinks & Fruit Smoothies
Fruit juice and fruit drinks, especially those that contain citrus (lemon, orange, or grapefruit), contain natural acids that can harm teeth. They should be consumed in small amounts, if at all. Liquid detox diets or juice cleanses, which have increased in popularity, often involve drinking several cups of juice over the course of a day. They can cause major damage to teeth in a short period of time, especially when the drinks contain high amounts of lemon juice. Both store-bought and homemade fruit smoothies can also damage teeth.
• Sports & Energy Drinks
Sports drinks and energy drinks are big business. They are hugely popular with teenagers and young adults, especially males. Researchers from Southern Illinois University School of Dentistry looked at the acidity levels of nine different energy drinks and thirteen different sports drinks. They found the acidity levels were high enough to erode tooth enamel after just five days of exposure. Energy drinks were found to be twice as damaging to teeth as sports drinks. Researchers say exposure to energy drinks is harmful enough, ultimately, to cause loss of tooth structure. Yikes!
• Flavoured Waters
Research from the University of Birmingham reports that flavoured sparkling waters have an erosive potential similar to or greater than that of pure orange juice, an established erosive drink. Many bottled waters contain citric acid, which gives them their lemon, lime, or grapefruit taste. Flavouring water yourself with liquid drops, like Mio Liquid Water Enhancers or Crystal Light Liquid Drink Mixes, can also harm teeth. They contain primarily acidic ingredients, like citric acid and sodium citrate.
White wine is generally more acidic than red, although both can harm teeth. Professional wine tasters often experience significant tooth erosion and tooth sensitivity (all that swirling and swishing exposes teeth to more acid). Wine coolers and fruity alcoholic drinks can be highly acidic as well.
Beverages That Are Safer For Teeth
Plain water is the best drink for teeth. Unflavoured mineral water or sparkling water are other options. Plain milk is also a safe choice. Teas – black and especially green tea – are generally considered non-erosive. Tea also contains flavonoids – beneficial plant compounds that can reduce the type of bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay. Some herbal teas, however, can be more erosive than orange juice. Fruit teas (like lemon, raspberry, and blackcurrant) appear to be especially damaging, while mint and camomile teas are safe for teeth. Adding lots of lemon to your tea is not recommended. Most store-bought iced teas contain added acidic ingredients that are harmful to teeth. Although few studies have been done on coffee, it appears to be relatively safe, especially if you enjoy it as a latte without added sugar.
Other Important Tips For Protecting Your Teeth
Here are a few more tips to help protect your pearly whites:
• Juice that contains added calcium, such as calcium-fortified orange juice, is less acidic and therefore, less damaging to teeth. Eat most of your fruit whole – chewing helps stimulates saliva which helps protect teeth.
• Fruit smoothies made with milk or yogurt are better for your teeth than those made with fruit juice as the base.
• Using a straw placed toward the back of the mouth reduces the erosive potential of acidic drinks. Don’t swish acidic drinks around in your mouth.
• Having acidic drinks at mealtimes and with food reduces their potential to damage teeth. Most importantly, don’t sip on acidic drinks all day long.
• Rinse your mouth with water right after consuming an acidic drink or chew sugar-free gum to increase the saliva flow in your mouth.
• Wait at least an hour after drinking an acidic beverage before brushing your teeth. Brushing immediately after may remove the softened enamel.
• Never drink an acidic beverage right before bedtime.
Acidic beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks can erode tooth enamel and cause serious, permanent damage to teeth. Learn to consume these drinks wisely or not at all. Taking care of your teeth really matters!
P.S. Don’t forget to pass this blog on to those who might benefit. Thank you!
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