A news story has been making the rounds, comparing the effect on dental health from drinking diet soda with using meth. While we all like a good horror story, the facts just don’t add up. It turns out that the “study” that launched all this press was limited to a few individuals, none of whom had visited a dentist for decades. But that does raise the question: how damaging are today’s popular beverages? Turns out there are scientific answers available!
Scientists from the University of Iowa studied the effect of prolonged exposure to common beverages on healthy teeth. The test teeth were in good shape, except that they were not in anyone’s mouth any more. The teeth were soaked in a chosen beverage for 25 hours to see what would happen to the enamel surface. Other teeth were soaked root-down, to measure the effect on the molar’s root. Five beverages were studied: Gatorade, Red Bull, Coke, Diet Coke and apple juice. Just to keep it interesting for the lab assistants, the beverages were refreshed every 5 hours. After this ordeal, the teeth were studied under a microscope to find out what had changed.
The results may surprise you. Colas, especially sugar-sweetened colas, have a reputation problem. But it turns out that only 100% apple juice was more gentle on the teeth! The truly awful influence on your teeth is actually Gatorade. Red Bull is better than Gatorade, but still more damaging than Coke, Diet Coke or apple juice. Sugar-sweetened Coke was next in the tooth-dissolving hierarchy, followed by Diet Coke, then apple juice.
It should be stated that all of the beverages caused some damage to the teeth. Gatorade caused more than twice the damage of apple juice, but apple juice was not blameless. There are strategies for minimizing the damage from beverages, like drinking with a straw, and minimizing the amount of time the beverage stays in your mouth before you swallow. But if you want the least dental damage, drink water. That’s the real answer for preventing tooth erosion.