The short answer to the title question is water and milk. All other beverages fall into the acidic side of the pH scale. Acids will dissolve your tooth enamel and make your tooth more susceptible to cavities. Some also contain sugar. The bacteria in your mouth are activated by sugar (whether from drinks or food). Their waste product is acid. So drinks that are acidic and have sugars provide a “double whammy” of acid to your teeth.
Bottled Water: Water is great for your body whether it’s bottled or from the tap. Bottled water goes through a filtration process and often loses the fluoride that is added to tap water, and this is bad for your teeth. An increase in cavities has been seen since people started drinking bottled water over tap water. Tooth decay decreased an average of 29% in children ages 4-17 once fluoride started being added to community water supplies. Some bottled water does have fluoride added to it.
Sparkling Water: Sparkling water, on the other hand, is carbonated water (it has carbon dioxide dissolved in it). This creates carbonic acid which is what provides the bubbles. So it can damage teeth. It’s slightly more acidic than tap water. The acidity can cause enamel erosion. In some experiments, it has eroded enamel at the same rate as orange juice. Sparkling water should be used in moderation. Those people with IBS or acid reflux should avoid sparkling water. Also, the bubbles may make you feel full so that you don’t drink as much—this can sometimes lead to dehydration.
Milk: Milk contains calcium which is one of the building blocks of hard body structures such as teeth and bones. It does have some natural sugars, so it’s not quite as good for your teeth as water. In fact, it is the cause of “baby bottle tooth decay” which is what happens if milk is placed in a baby’s bottle at naptime or bedtime and the child falls asleep with the bottle in his or her mouth. The milk pools by the front teeth and causes cavities. For this reason, milk should not be held in the mouth for long periods of time.
Chocolate Milk/Flavored Milks: You might think chocolate milk would be bad for you since the chocolate adds sugar, but it’s actually better for you than most other drinks on the list. Depending on the amount of added sugar, flavored milks should probably be used in moderation.
Juice: Juices, even 100% juices, contain sugar. In 100% juice the sugar is natural. In juice drinks or blends, the sugar is added. Be careful with labels. Often a label will say 100% Vitamin C and people see the 100% and think it is real juice. Orange juice and other high acid drinks are ok at mealtime, but don’t sip them slowly or hold them in your mouth for long periods of time
Sports Drinks: Sports Drinks are really only needed for intense exercise or endurance sports. They contain high levels of carbohydrates, salt, and citric acid and can have a negative impact on dental health. They may contribute to eroding your dental (tooth) enamel. Citric acid tends to maintain acid levels on a tooth because it binds calcium and keeps it away from the tooth so the calcium can’t remineralize your tooth. This causes the teeth to soften and weaken. Enamel erosion with sports drinks is estimated to be 11 times greater than soda!
Soda: Sodas contain phosphoric acid and citric acid. Acids erode your tooth enamel, which softens and weakens your tooth and can make them more susceptible to cavities. Even though the pH is more acidic than sports drinks, the erosion tends to be less—but there is still erosion which can cause sensitivity/discomfort. A 12 oz. can of soda contains 9-10 teaspoons of sugar. Oral bacteria are activated by sugar and produce acids—so you can get a bit of a “double whammy” for your teeth between the sugar effects and the acid effects.
So it is okay to have beverages other than water or milk from time to time. Using a straw may reduce the amount of acid and sugar that comes into contact with the teeth. Gulping your beverage or drinking it all at once rather than taking small sips over a long period of time will also minimize the amount of contact with your teeth. On average, you will get about 20 minutes of acid production each time sugar comes in contact with your teeth. So if you chug the whole soda, there will be 20 minutes of acid production. If you sip the soda throughout the day, you get 20 minutes of acid production for each sip.
*Note: Information in this article is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.
1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053