You likely know that what you eat and drink has an effect on the health of your teeth and gums, but have you ever considered that how you drink might also affect your oral health? If you regularly consume sugary drinks, such as soda (pop) or fruit juice, does it matter if you're drinking out of cans, using a straw or pouring the liquid into a glass? As it turns out, it's not only the sugar content in the drinks that can contribute to tooth decay. Your method of consuming a beverage might also play a role in cavity development and enamel erosion.
How Sugary Drinks Affect the Mouth
Sugary drinks can affect the health of your mouth in several ways. When you drink soda or another beverage that contains a lot of sugar, you're giving the bacteria in your mouth their favorite food. When the bacteria that live in your mouth eat sugar, they produce acid, which contributes to decay and enamel erosion, explains the American Dental Association (ADA).
It's not just sugary soda that can increase your risk of decay and erosion. Even supposedly "healthy" drinks, such as orange juice and other acidic juices, can cause enamel erosion. Diet drinks, or those labeled as sugar-free, can also damage your teeth, notes the Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA).
Does Your Drinking Method Matter?
Does drinking out of cans make you more or less likely to develop tooth decay and erosion? What about using a straw when drinking? As it turns out, how you consume a beverage might influence how sugars and acids interact with your teeth.
A review article published in BAOJ Dentistry explains that your manner of drinking — whether you take long sips, gulp, use a straw or hold the drink in your mouth before swallowing — may impact the pH of a tooth's surface and therefore its vulnerability to erosion. Taking long sips and holding a beverage in the mouth are most likely to lead to the greatest drop in pH. A lower pH indicates a more acidic environment, which increases your risk for erosion. Gulping the beverage, on the other hand, leads to a smaller drop in pH.
The ADA supports these conclusions, noting that swallowing a drink quickly or finishing it in one sitting gives the mouth the chance to wash the sugar and acids away. Taking sips, such as out of a can, continually throughout the day exposes the teeth to sugar, giving bacteria more opportunities to produce enamel-wearing and decay-causing acids.
Using a straw to drink a sugary beverage might also help to lower your risk of decay or erosion. It all depends on the positioning of the straw. If the straw is placed in front of the teeth, so that the beverage comes into contact with them, there's an increased risk of rapid erosion, according to the BAOJ Dentistry article. Positioning the straw so that it's at the back of the mouth may help to reduce erosion risk.
The time at which you drink sugary beverages may also influence the amount of decay or erosion they cause. For example, if you want to enjoy a soda or another sweet drink, it's a good idea to do so with a meal. The BAOJ Dentistry article notes that soft drinks enjoyed during a meal are "less injurious" than drinks consumed on their own.
Preventing Tooth Decay and Enamel Erosion
While kicking a habit is rarely easy, cutting back on soda and other acidic drinks can help to protect your teeth. The WDA provides several recommendations to help reduce your risk of cavities and enamel erosion:
- Try limiting soda or sugary beverages to no more than one 12-ounce can per day.
- Drink at least eight glasses of fluoridated water a day.
- Rinse your mouth out with water after drinking a sugary beverage.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
- See your dentist for regular checkups.
Being mindful of the beverages you consume and the way you drink them can help to reduce the effects of bacteria and acids in your mouth. Follow these prevention tips and maintain regular checkups with your dentist to protect your smile.