Diet soda is often touted as a healthier alternative to full-sugar soda, especially as it tends to contain a mere fraction of the sugar content you’d find in your average soda. However, when it comes to your dental health and the risks of decay and erosion, you might be surprised by how few differences there are between full-sugar and low-sugar soda varieties.
While low-sugar drinks might reduce tooth decay risk, they don’t eliminate it altogether. There’s also more to worry about than just sugar; you also have to consider the acidity of drinks. With so much to think about, it can be worth learning as much as possible about diet soda before considering it as an alternative to your full-sugar favorites.
Are Diet or Sugar-Free Drinks Bad for Your Teeth?
According to studies, sugar in beverages like soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juice, and energy drinks isn’t the only thing that puts your teeth at risk of erosion. Any drink with pH levels below 5.5 is classed as acidic, which includes many beverages such as:
- Soft drinks
- Sports drinks
- Energy drinks
- Fruit juices
Whether they have been manufactured as diet or full sugar, their acidity is an indicator of their erosive potential. Other chemicals in these beverages also pose a decay risk, such as citrate, which can remove calcium from the teeth. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the acids in carbonated beverages might also negatively affect enamel more than sugars in sweetened drinks.
What Do Studies Say About Diet Soda?
One of the questions many dentists are asked by their patients is whether they should swap their full-sugar soda for diet alternatives, and it has never been easy for dentists to provide an answer. However, studies are starting to paint a picture of the effects of diet drinks on dental erosion, at least here in the United States.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, most of the population had some form of dental decay, with older males more at risk than younger people. However, the survey also discovered that drinking diet drinks made participants more likely to have the highest erosion. This study concluded that high diet drinks consumption slightly increased the risk of dental decay among US adults. Further research was needed before dentists could recommend diet drinks as healthy substitutes for sugary drinks.
What Increases Your Risk of Tooth Decay?
Knowing that the acidity of some beverages can contribute to erosion, you might be curious whether some food and drinks are more damaging than others. The reality is that how you consume food and beverages can contribute to the prevalence of decay. Approximately 90% of all food we consume, healthy or not, contains starches and sugars. These allow the bacteria in dental plaque to produce acid. When acids remain in your mouth for 20 minutes or longer, there can be a genuine risk of tooth mineral loss and, subsequently, dental cavities.
You might be more at risk of tooth decay if you slowly sip a sugary drink rather than finish the glass in one sitting. Each time you take a sip over a long period, you allow the acid to perform an extended attack on your teeth. Beverages also aren’t the only thing to blame for tooth decay. Cooked starches might also result in cavities. Bread, pretzels, potato chips, pasta, and crackers can often take longer to clear than sugar, which might result in a decay risk that lasts longer.
What Beverages Do Dentists Recommend?
Removing all sugary beverages from your diet might be the best way to reduce your risk of related decay, but it’s not always realistic for the average person who likes to treat themselves from time to time. The American Dental Association recommends swapping out some sugary and diet beverages for low-sugar alternatives, such as:
- Unsweetened tea
- Diluted juice
- Plain sparkling water
Can I Still Drink Diet Soda?
Learning that you might be at risk of cavities can be daunting, especially when you want to take care of your teeth. While your teeth might benefit the most from you not drinking soda, there are actions you can take to limit its impact if you do decide to treat yourself to a glass from time to time.
Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and chewing sugar-free gum in between meals.
You might also choose to drink sugar-free beverages with meals rather than sipping them throughout the day. Consider drinking these through a straw to minimize the contact the acid from these beverages has with your teeth.
If you’ve had a particularly acidic food or beverage, rinse your mouth with water. You might even like to finish the meal or drink with a dairy product like a glass of milk or a slice of cheese, which can neutralize acids.
It’s also worth noting that other documented health effects can be associated with drinking diet soda. According to studies, artificial sweeteners might impact your gut flora, leading to a potentially increased risk of type 2 diabetes and reduced blood sugar control. Diet soda also isn’t nutritious, no matter how it’s marketed. Some of the most common ingredients include colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, acids, and caffeine.
How Do I Know I Have Cavities or Tooth Decay?
If you’ve been drinking diet soda or any sugary or acid-rich beverage for some time, you might be at an increased risk of tooth decay and cavities. Alongside regular checkups with your preferred dentist, you can sometimes identify a cavity or decay if you experience some of the following symptoms:
- Toothache – pain without any apparent cause
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Mild or sharp pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold, or sweet
- Pain when you bite down
- White, black, or brown staining on a tooth’s surface
Failure to seek dental treatment for a cavity might result in:
- Chewing problems
- Pain and discomfort
- Pus and swelling around a tooth
- Damaged or broken teeth
Recommending a sugar-free beverage over one containing sugar is complicated, and most dentists won’t endorse either of these options. If you’d like to learn more about how your eating and drinking habits might contribute to your oral health, make an appointment with the expert team at AZ Family & Kid’s Dental today.