Sugary drinks and tooth decay

While sugary drinks are widely known to lead to tooth decay, many people don’t realise that fruit juice, sugar-free drinks and sports drinks can be just as damaging. While there’s wide awareness about the health and oral impacts of sugary drinks, they are still consumed at an alarmingly high rate. Did you know that Australia consistently ranks in the top 10 of the highest per capita consumption of soft drinks, with most Australians consuming about 30 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Sugar, acid and tooth decay

There are two issues with all these drinks. One is the sugar content and the other is the high levels of acidity. It’s like a two-pronged attack on your teeth and the processes occur concurrently.

In every mouth there are good and bad bacteria, and studies have shown that a select group of harmful bacteria thrive in a sugary environment. In the presence of sugar these bacteria produce acids that removes the minerals from the enamel of your teeth. This slowly destroys the enamel and a hole can be formed.

Acidity directly softens the enamel on the tooth and makes it easier for them to dissolve. That’s why sugar-free drinks are still bad for your teeth — they are usually very acidic.

Sugar recommendation

Most people are aware that soft drinks like Coke, Fanta and lemonade have large amounts of sugar in them. But in recent years, there has been a huge increase in drinks that are marketed as ‘health juices’. Your average Boost Juice, for example, contains about 12 teaspoons of sugar. That’s more than the total daily recommendation for an adult.

As mentioned previously, don’t think you can solve the problem by switching to a sugar-free option like Coke Zero, either. Although it’s low in sugar, it’s high in acidity.

While the amount of sugar each person should consume is dependent on factors such as genetics, how much you exercise and diabetes, it’s generally recommended that an adult consumes no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar each day.

What can you do?

There are a few things you can do to minimise the effects of sugary drinks. If you want to consume soft drinks, consume them with meals. While eating, you produce more saliva and this helps neutralise the acid’s attack on the teeth. If you’re going to drink a can of Coke, drink it all in one go and don’t sip it slowly throughout the day. Sipping means that your teeth are being constantly attacked and don’t have time to recover.

Once you have consumed a sugary drink, wait at least an hour before brushing your teeth. Your teeth will be in a softened state from acidity and sugar, so if you brush them right away, you can actually increase the damage. After consuming a sugary drink, a glass of water will also help wash away some of that sugar.

You have to live your life and it’s probably impossible to give up all drinks that are bad for your teeth. Just remember — all things in moderation. Be smart about your lifestyle choices and be aware that many products marketed as sports or health drinks could be bad for you and your teeth.

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