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Soda Pop: Cavities in a Bottle?

Updated on June 13, 2012

On a recent visit to the dentist office with a friend of mine, I learned that I still had a lot to learn about carbonated sodas and tooth decay. I knew that sodas, due to their high sugar content, were bad for your teeth. I knew Mountain Dew had more sugar than any other soft drink. I knew that drinking diet soda was the way to go because the low sugar content solved all those pesky dental problems while the carbonated water in the drink burned off the gunk. Wait a minute...I knew what?

I quickly learned that I was quite wrong about the benefits of diet soda. As it turns out, a major part of the damage pop does to teeth is in the carbonic acid used to carbonate the beverage. If you had any silly ideas that maybe that fizz would help clean the plaque off your teeth and actually be a good thing, well... you were wrong. But you were not alone. Apparently this is a fairly common misconception.

Acidity is measured by the pH level in an item with water considered neutral with a pH of about 7.0. The lower the pH level, the more acidic something is. The acidity in our mouths is usually a little lower than water, maybe as low as around 6.2. Somewhere between a pH of 5.5 and 5.2, tooth enamel starts to dissolve. Get ready for a shocker and check the chart below for the acidity and sugar content of some popular soft drinks...

SUGAR (TSP. per 12 OZ.)
7.00 (Neutral)
Barq's Root Beer
Diet Coke
Diet Pepsi
Mountain Dew
Diet Mountain Dew
Hawaiian Punch

Yowzah! That's kind of scary when you think about it. Let me put it out of my mind while I have a sip of soda...

Ahhh! The fizzy, tickling of diet soda... sort of reminds me of... oh yeah... acid...

The dentist made it very clear to my friend (and to me through the wonderful process of auditory osmosis) that carbonated sodas are bad with a capital B-A-D. And her dentist can be kind of scary when he tries to make a point. He's a great guy with a wonderful demeanor and always smiling, but when he is basically warning you that you are going to lose your teeth, well... let's just say that it is clear the man takes his dentistry seriously.

Now since you looked at the chart above, I am sure you have been thinking, "But wait! Gatorade and Hawaiian Punch are not carbonated." And I must admit that you are indeed correct. But including them on the chart was not a mistake. I was merely getting ahead of myself (and avoiding having to make another chart). While carbonated sodas are B-A-D, they are not the only culprits.

Many items have lower pH and can cause damage to teeth beyond just the damage caused by sugar content. Some examples are drinks like the Gatorade and Hawaiian Punch mentioned above as well as things like breath mints (average pH around 2.00), grapefruit (3.00), cider vinegar (3.10), and oranges (3.12). It kind of makes you wonder if maybe our teeth are not simply doomed.

In order to combat the damage this acidity does to our teeth, dentists recommend limiting the amount of sodas we drink and instead opting for water which has no acidity and is considered neutral or milk that has a pH ranging from about 6.40 to 6.80.Tea is another option with a pH around 7.20, but be sure not to negate the benefit by loading it up with sugar. (I'm talking to you, my fellow Southerners!)

When you do consume sodas or other damaging beverages, brush as soon as possible or at least rinse with water or follow the soft drink with 8 ounces of water or milk. And remember to brush after having food as neutralizing the acidity of your mouth is one of the main reasons brushing is recommended in the first place. And I always thought it was just to get those pesky sesame seeds out of those crevices! Another suggestion for after a soda is chewing sugarless gum to encourage the production of saliva which in turn will raise the pH in your mouth.

Carbonated soda does more than damage your teeth. CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE TO ENLARGE for more bad news about that evil, fizzy treat in a bottle.
Carbonated soda does more than damage your teeth. CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE TO ENLARGE for more bad news about that evil, fizzy treat in a bottle.

Acknowledgments and Disclaimer

Data regarding pH levels was gathered from research published by the Minnesota Dental Association, the Missouri Dental Association and the University of Cincinnati Biology Department. In cases of discrepancy between the sources, the more conservative figure was used. All data here, while researched to the best of my ability, should be considered for entertainment purposes only. Actual decisions regarding the care of your teeth should only be made with the advice of your dentist.

Educate -- Don't Regulate

There has been some talk in the news in recent years of the government regulating the soft drink industry. I have to wonder would it not be better to make people aware of the pH levels in foods and beverages so that it would be easier to make educated decisions rather than trying to dictate to soft drink manufacturers what they can or cannot do with their product? Especially when you consider that carbonated beverages are only a part, albeit a large part, of the problem. Maybe we should start by including pH info on the nutritional labels instead.

Now that you know the truth about soft drinks, what do you plan to do?

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    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi DarkSinistar thanks for this very informative hub, i stopped drinking soda many years ago .

      Great hub !!!

    • justom profile image

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Doctors and dentists have all the answers don't they? All they want is for you to keep coming back. I've grown tired of everyone trying to tell you what's good or bad for you. We all do stuff that's bad for us every day (most times through no fault of ours). I don't drink soda and I've never smoked (well at least not cigs:-D)but I feel bad at the way folks are treated for doing so. Teeth are overrated, I can say that now that mine are fake! Good hub, Peace!! Tom