You are what you drink (including your teeth)

One of the more frequent conversations in dental offices every day revolves around healthy eating, both for general and dental health. Most of us are already very aware of the dental risks associated with consuming excessive sugar, particularly the sticky sugars found in gum, toffee and other sticky sweets. But when it comes to beverages, we might not be as aware of what we are actually consuming.

Of course, nothing comes close to water for maintenance of optimal general and dental health. Water has zero calories, zero fat, zero cholesterol and neutral pH. Water also keeps the body hydrated, is excellent for teeth and gums, and provides benefits for skin, kidneys and other internal organs. At the other end of the spectrum, Coke and other soft drinks are the prototypical ‘bad for you’ drinks. A 355 mL can of Coke contains 10 teaspoons of sugar (just imagine stirring 10 teaspoons of sugar into your morning coffee!), 40 grams of carbohydrates, 145 calories, has a pH of 2.52 (highly acidic) and has no nutritional value. The sticky sugar and acid in Coke is an especially nasty combination, as the acid creates tiny porosities in tooth enamel, and the bacteria in the mouth nest in these crevices and binge on the sugar, creating a ‘perfect storm’ for tooth decay. Sprite, ginger ale, Mountain Dew and other carbonated soft drinks have equivalent values, and are equally hard on teeth.

For those who prefer diet soft drinks, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that these diet drinks have zero sugar and zero carbs. However, they still have the same acidic pH as regular soft drinks, and therefore can cause both decay and enamel erosion, leading to teeth that are sensitive to hot and cold.

Sadly, fruit juices are no better than soft drinks, and some are actually worse! A glass of orange juice contains eight teaspoons of sugar, has 165 calories and a pH of 3.5 (also very damaging to teeth). Apple and grapefruit juices are comparable, cranberry juice is slightly better, and I would be remiss if I did not mention grape juice, with a whopping 15 teaspoons of sugar, 60 grams of carbs and 240 calories!

Milk is certainly a better alternative to either soft drinks or fruit juices. A serving of 1 per cent milk has 14 grams of sugar, and this is approximately doubled when you switch to chocolate milk.

What about sport drinks and energy drinks? Gatorade has somewhat less sugar than Coke, but is even more acidic, and in a 2008 University of Iowa study was shown to be more damaging to tooth enamel than Coke. Red Bull energy drink has 27 grams of carbs and 108 calories, but these are packed into a smaller 250 mL can. And the deceptively named Vitamin Water has 33 grams of carbs and 125 calories!

A regular sized cup of black coffee has only 2 calories and 102 mg of caffeine. However, a Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream tops the charts at 74 grams of sugar (a mere 18 teaspoons of sugar) and 500 calories. A large Tim Horton’s Ice Capp does only slightly better at 62 grams of sugar and 470 calories. Tea has 50 per cent less caffeine than coffee, but those who like to ‘sugar up’ their tea will be interested to know that a Venti Chai Tea Latte has 42 grams of sugar (11 teaspoons!).

Wine drinkers will be interested to learn that, depending on how dry or sweet, a 5 oz. glass of wine can have anywhere from 125 to 200 calories. Keep in mind that this is for one glass of wine … so go ahead and do the math. The pH of wine varies from 2.8 at the low end to 4.0 at the high end. Scotch drinkers will be very pleased to know that their beverage of choice contains only 108 calories.

By no means am I suggesting that readers should stop enjoying their favourite beverages. I am suggesting that readers should educate themselves and know what they are consuming. And for those who are either prone to dental decay or sensitive teeth, some modification to beverage intake might be beneficial.


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