Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages have become the daily choice for many school-aged children, teens, and adults. As a result, many dental providers are seeing tooth decay from frequent consumption of sugary beverages.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as regular soda, fruit juice, sweetened water, sports and energy drinks, and sweetened coffee/tea drinks play a major role in tooth decay.
Many sugar-sweetened beverages also do not provide essential nutrients for healthy teeth. There is strong evidence suggesting that drinking too many sugary beverages can also contribute to health-related problems, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes (CDC).
The cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth love to eat sugar and produce an acid that wears away the tooth enamel, the outer shell that protects the inner part of the tooth. Carbonation and acids in soft drinks also weaken tooth enamel. And it doesn’t take long, the acid begins to wear away at the enamel in only 20 minutes! Each acid attack starts over again with every sip (MSDH). Cavities begin when the tooth enamel is damaged.
Making healthier beverages choices can help decrease tooth decay and prevent health problems related to daily consumption of sugary beverages.
What are healthy beverage options?
What you drink is as important as what you eat. Beverage options with nutrients, or without added sugar are choices that can both decrease tooth decay and promote better health.
Dairy milk and non-dairy milk. Dairy milk contains calcium, protein, and essential vitamins that are important for strong bones and teeth. Non-dairy milk such as almond or soy milk are fortified with essential nutrients. Healthy options are unsweetened and do not have sugar additives.
Water. Water does not have any sugar. It is the perfect beverage for quenching your thirst and rehydrating. It washes away leftover foods and sugar on your teeth. Water also flushes toxins from your body and carries nutrients to your cells.
Unsweetened tea and coffee. These beverages are considered healthy when consumed in moderation. These beverages contain caffeine. Children, people with heart disease, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or people taking anti-anxiety medications should avoid caffeine.
How can I make better beverage choices for me and my family?
Making better beverage choices can help protect your tooth enamel for healthy teeth. Follow the tips below to help reduce the risk of tooth decay from sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Do not let your infant fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, or fruit juice in their mouth. The sugar in these liquids can cause severe tooth decay when it sits on a baby’s teeth for extended periods of time. Try switching out the milk with safe tap water just before bed. Remove the bottle from their mouth as soon as your baby falls asleep.
- Fill your baby’s sippy cup with water. Water is the best choice to prevent tooth decay. 100% juice can be offered during mealtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to no more than 4 ounce a day for kids (one) 1 to three (3) years old.
- Make your home a healthy beverage drink zone. Ensure water or milk are options easily accessible. Have ready-to-go containers available for lunch boxes and backpacks.
Teens and Adults:
- Make water your choice for thirst. Choose from tap water, bottled, or sparkling. Keep a clean, refillable water bottle with you when you are at work, school, or on the go. Add sliced lemon, lime, or cucumber for extra flavor.
- Reach for nutritious beverages. Choose drinks that contain nutrients and are limited in added sugars such as low-fat milk, unsweetened fortified milk alternatives, or a small glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice.
- Cut back. When water won’t do, enjoy the beverage of your choice in smaller amounts. Select smaller cans, cups, or glasses instead of larger or supersized options.