It’s summertime! With more outdoor activities, summer’s heat equals more thirsty people. So, whenever I see an ad for soft drinks claiming to be “thirst quenching,” I cringe a bit. As a dentist in Shelby Twp, I know how the ingredients of most soft drinks do anything but.
In 2021, Coca-Cola (the leader in soft drink sales) spent $193 million on advertising. Pepsi, in second place for sales, spent $114 million. And apparently, consumers are responding as these big dollars are intended.
The U.S. has the highest per-capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks in the world. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans drink more than 50 gallons per capita of carbonated soft drinks annually. In addition to tracking the consumption of carbonated soft drinks, the organization also monitors consumption of bottled water, coffee, tea, milk, fruit drinks, beer, wine, and spirits. Of all those they track, carbonated soft drinks make up the largest segment.
The term “soft drinks” itself is an inaccurate term when it comes to your smile, greatly increasing the potential to cause cavities and enamel erosion. Yet, people are typically unaware of how erosive the acids from cola are. This includes sugar-free soft drinks, which can cause the same level of erosion as those containing sugar.
The acidity levels in colas have been compared to nearly that of the levels in battery acid.
Colas are highly acidic because they are infused with phosphoric acid. Intended to add flavor, phosphoric acid is inexpensive and widely available. It is a common ingredient in fertilizers, detergents, industrial cleaners and is combined with arsenic in some uses. Phosphoric acid is so erosive it can remove rust from aircraft carriers and ships.
Imagine the damage that this acid can have on teeth and bone health. When you add these erosive acids to the acids that occur naturally in the mouth, the boosted levels of acidity have tremendous potential to erode tooth enamel. Symptoms of dental erosion include temperature sensitivity, pain, transparent teeth, cracking and darkening of teeth.
As bad as the erosion factor is on teeth, it’s often the way colas are consumed that make them even more damaging. Every time we eat or drink, an acid flows into the mouth through saliva to begin the initial stage of digestion. This natural acid flow is active for 20-30 minutes after eating or drinking ceases.
Colas are often consumed slowly, sipped on over long periods of time. So, when you sip a cola by the pool for half an hour, the acid attack lasts that long PLUS another 30 minutes to subside. For colas containing sugar, this mixes with the acid in the drink and your digestive acids for an even greater level of destruction.
Because digestive acids are able to soften the strength of tooth enamel, teeth are more susceptible to decay. Add the acidic forces of colas and an acid attack becomes doubly potent and for an extended period of time. With this understanding, it’s not hard to see how teeth are at a high risk for decay. Additionally, teeth in this weakened state can easily be stained by the caramel coloring in many colas.
“Thirst quenching” can occur in a far less risky form, however. Water is the body’s best hydration source. Yet, for all the advertising by the cola companies, water is often overlooked. According to an article in the New York Post (September 2020), the statistics of adults in the U.S. who are not drinking enough water is concerning.
More than half of adults in the United States don’t drink enough water, according to a poll of 2,000 people. Just 22% drink the USDA recommended 8-10 glasses a day. Instead, most Americans are consuming a mere 5 glasses a day, about half the advised amount.
The health benefits of staying properly hydrated are top-to-bottom. Staying properly hydrated is credited for instilling feelings of being refreshed, more alert, being less hungry, having clearer skin, and being more active. Another health benefit has to do with having better oral health.
Water intake helps to support saliva in the mouth. Saliva is what helps to rinse bacteria and food particles from the mouth. Sufficient saliva flow helps in neutralizing the acids produced by oral bacteria and aids in preventing tooth decay and the development of periodontal (gum) disease.
Certainly, there are other reasons people struggle with inadequate saliva flow. Frequent “dry mouth” is known as Xerostomia. This is when the salivary glands produce an inadequate flow of saliva to keep the mouth wet. Common contributors of dry mouth are smoking; a side effect of many medications; the aging process; radiation therapy; medical conditions (such as acid reflux, sinus infections, diabetes, and bronchitis); snoring; and, breathing through the mouth due to sinus problems.
Dry mouth promotes oral bacteria by enabling rapid reproduction. When oral bacteria are able to remain in the mouth – an ideal warm, dark, moist environment – the more they can multiply in number. Without saliva serving as a continual rinsing agent to keep bacteria levels in the mouth under control, oral bacteria accumulate at a rapid pace.
In the U.S., one of the greatest contributors to oral dryness are the medications that adults take. The most frequently cited medications with an oral dryness side effect are:
If oral dryness is causing you persistent bad breath, sore and tender gums, and seeing blood when brushing, periodontal (gum) disease is likely underway and needs prompt treatment. In addition to the destruction in your mouth, gum disease can release infectious bacteria into the bloodstream. These bacteria have been shown to trigger inflammatory reactions elsewhere in the body and are connected to a number of serious health problems (including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and arthritis). Periodontal disease is also the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.
Gum disease, once underway, will only worsen without treatment. If you have symptoms of gum disease or feel you have persistent bad breath, we can help you avoid more complex problems that are likely to develop, including tooth loss. Call 586-739-2155 or tap here to schedule an examination.
Or get to know us during a free consultation. During this time, we can discuss potential treatment, concerns about comfort, including fear or anxiety. If desired, we can also have our financial coordinator explain our easy payment plans.