You hear a lot of big talk about how pop is going to destroy your teeth. But when the kind of experiments that tend to go viral (like the one above) involve soaking a tooth in soda for days on end, it’s hard to see a correlation between that and reality. We’re not holding soda in our mouths for hours – we’re just taking sips throughout the day. This sort of casual experiment doesn’t exactly follow the scientific method, so how can we trust the results?

But while real-life results of soda exposure to teeth might be less dramatic, they’re still pretty worrying. Soda is harmful to your enamel for a variety of reasons – and it poses problems for the rest of your body, too. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to leave pop behind, we can help. Read on for some motivation that will have you giving that can a second look.

Will Soda Really Ruin My Teeth?

While many teeth-in-soda experiments might not yield accurate results, they do tell us other things about how soda is impacting our mouths. A few of the most concerning:

  • There’s a clear link between pop consumption and tooth decay
  • Heavy consumption has been linked to conditions like diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis

Why Is Pop Harmful to Teeth?

There are several aspects of soda that spell out trouble for tooth enamel. The biggest issues are that pop is both sugary and acidic. Your teeth and gums are becoming covered in plaque on an ongoing basis, which you remove when you brush and floss. As new bacteria enter your mouth when you eat and drink, they feed off sugar. Then they create acids, which attack tooth structure. This attack lasts at least 20 minutes with each new sugar blast. So when you’re drinking soda, a new onslaught takes place with every sip. Young teeth are particularly vulnerable, since the enamel isn’t fully developed.

In addition to being sugary, most sodas contain phosphoric acid and citric acid. These acids soften enamel, making it easier for decay to take hold. If you’re drinking diet soda to cut down on sugar, you’re still exposed to the same level of acidity, so your teeth aren’t safe. A study from 2013 actually compared the results of long-term diet soda consumption to the effects of heavy drug use (although the study size was very small and the conditions somewhat extreme).

How Often Can I Drink Soda?

You don’t have to stop drinking pop entirely, but you can consume more responsibly.

  • Drink soda with a meal to take advantage of additional saliva production
  • Consume in moderation (1 12 oz can per day)
  • Drink through a straw to prevent soda from washing over your teeth
  • Rinse your mouth with water afterwards to dilute acids
  • Don’t take a long time to drink a soda – ongoing sipping increases amount of time acids are affecting your teeth. Never hold soda in your mouth.
  • Although it may seem like you should brush right after soda, this can actually damage your enamel since it has been softened by the acidity. Wait 1 hour before brushing, and rinse with water in the meantime.
  • Visit your dentist regularly so that they can monitor for signs of decay
  • Use fluoride toothpaste to remineralize enamel and protect teeth
  • Check drinks’ nutritional labels to keep track of sugar content and limit the sweeter stuff

How Can I Cut Down My Soda Intake?

  • Chew sugarless gum – This will help you feel like you’re still getting a sweet treat throughout the day, but it won’t harm your teeth. Sugarless gum can actually help protect teeth by stimulating saliva production. And gum containing xylitol may have antibacterial effects.
  • Stay hydrated – Many people drink soda for the energy boost that it provides throughout the day. While the sugar and caffeine content provide a temporary boost, that quickly fades and is replaced by a crash. And those ingredients actually contribute to dehydration, which is the #1 reason for daytime fatigue. If you’re feeling sleepy around 2pm, reach for water instead of a sweet drink. Once you’re accustomed to water being your daily drink of choice, you’ll feel far better than you do when drinking soda during the day.
  • Stock your fridge with alternatives – Buy other drinks with less sugar and lower acidity. Bottled water, milk, and 100% fruit juice are all superior to soda and just as portable and thirst-quenchable. Encourage your kids to try these as well. If you stop keeping soda in the house, you will all eventually forget you ever needed it.
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