The Truth About Sugary Drinks and Your Smile

Soda can with sugar pouring out
By Ida Gorshteyn,
UCLA School of Dentistry student


Sweetened beverages have become a treat that many Americans have every day. The truth is that these drinks are not healthy, especially for our dental health and smiles. Everyone has harmful bacteria in their mouths that eat the sugars we consume. The bacteria get energy from the sugar, but in the process produce acid. The acid they make can damage teeth, causing cavities to form or erosion to occur.

Some of the most common beverages that Americans drink actually have loads of sugar, even drinks that are marketed as “healthy” or “all natural”. If you think you’re safe with drinks like juice, think again! A glass of apple juice can contain a similar amount of sugar to glass of soda. According to the USDA, sugar should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories. For women, that is 10-15 tsp. per day. For men, it’s 12.5-18.75 tsp. Just one glass of that apple juice would put many people at (or just under) their entire daily limit.

Eliminating sugary beverages from our diets would be best, but reducing the number of sugary beverages you consume and substituting healthier options with less sugar is already a step in the right direction. Here is a list of drinks that are full of sugar and drinks that are better choices.

Lots of Sugar
Better Choices 
 Soda Water
 Energy drinks
Unsweetened tea
 Chocolate milk
Milk
 Smoothies Plain sparkling water
 Fruit punch or juice
Diluted juice

All of the drinks in the better choice column have little or no sugar. That means they won’t give the bacteria in your mouth a chance to cause trouble and make acid that can damage your teeth. Water can also contain fluoride, which protects teeth against cavities. The calcium in milk also helps keep your teeth strong. If you or your children are allergic to cow’s milk, try unsweetened milk substitute (such as almond, soy, rice) with added calcium.

If you find you can’t resist your morning cup of sweetened coffee, tea, or juice, there still are some things you can do to help protect your teeth. Here are some suggestions to consider.

  • Drink, don’t sip. Sipping gives the bacteria more time to eat the sugar and to create cavities. Drink quickly to give your body time to wash away the bad stuff. Try to drink sweetened coffees, teas or sodas in one sitting instead of sipping on them over a longer amount of time. If you give your child juice, have them drink it with meals only, and put only water in a sippy cup they might carry around during the day.
  • Fluoride is your friend. If your community’s water is fluoridated, drink tap water to improve your dental health. Fluoride protects teeth and has re-duced the number of cavities across the nation.
  • Brush and clean between your teeth. Brush your teeth twice a day and clean between your teeth once a day. Ask your dentist about the best way to do this. Help all kids under the age of eight to brush and floss well, and be sure to visit to your dentist regularly.

Knowing what drinks contain sugar and that sugar-sweetened drinks can hurt your dental health is a good start. Set some goals for your family to follow these tips. Good habits begin at a young age, so help your kids make healthy decisions about what they choose to drink. Set a positive example, and you will all have healthier smiles and a healthier future.

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