Is Drinking Diet Soda Better for Your Teeth?
Patients at Sunrise Dental in Peoria often ask us whether or not switching to diet soda would be better for their teeth. The answer depends on the soda. Diet drinks are not necessarily any better for your teeth than their calorie-rich cousins. Most carbonated beverages contain sugar, acid, and caffeine, which are all culprits in causing tooth decay. Even though diet sodas are sugar-free, they can still damage your teeth if they are acidic or contain caffeine.
Acid, Caffeine, and Tooth Decay
Sugary drinks cause tooth decay—it’s a well known fact. However, sugar doesn’t cause cavities by itself. Sugar causes tooth decay by feeding the bacteria that produce plaque. Cavity-causing bacteria love to eat sugar. The more sugar that bacteria can eat, the more they will thrive. As they grow they build sticky colonies of plaque that help them adhere to your teeth. Plaque causes cavities by producing acids, which damage tooth enamel.
Most diet sodas replace sugar with an artificial sweetener. Although artificial sweeteners do not contribute to tooth decay in the same way as sugar, that does not make diet sodas better for your teeth. Diet sodas are often highly acidic, leading to high levels of acid in your saliva. Just like acid from plaque, acidic beverages erode the enamel that protects your teeth. Eventually, enamel erosion will expose the dentin inside your teeth, causing sensitivity and pain. Exposed dentin makes your teeth even more susceptible to cavities and decay. Diet cola and fruit-flavored diet sodas are highly acidic, and are not good for your teeth.
Diet sodas and energy drinks can also be bad for your teeth if they contain caffeine. Drinking caffeinated beverages dehydrates your mouth and reduces your saliva production. Saliva plays an important role in helping to protect your teeth and gums. It washes away food debris and fights cavity-causing bacteria by preventing acid attacks. Minerals in your saliva also help to strengthen and rebuild tooth enamel; without adequate saliva, your teeth are more susceptible to damage. Plaque builds up much faster in a dry mouth, causing gum disease and tooth decay.
When Is Diet Soda Better for Your Teeth?
Diet soda can be better for your teeth than regular soda when it’s caffeine free and sweetened with xylitol. Oral streptococcus, the bacteria responsible for causing dental plaque and acidic saliva, are unable to digest xylitol. Without sugar to eat, the bacteria population shrinks, reducing acid attacks. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from sticking to teeth and forming plaque.
Because of its anticariogenic (cavity-fighting) powers, xylitol is often used to improve the flavor of toothpaste and mouthwash. You might already be using xylitol every day when you brush – check the ingredients to be sure. While it’s perfectly safe for humans, xylitol is toxic to dogs, so keep toothpaste and diet drinks away from pets.
If you are concerned about protecting your teeth, contact Sunrise Dental to schedule an appointment. Our friendly and talented dentists can answer all of your questions about dental health. Dr. Timothy Mettler, Dr. Victoria Griego, and Dr. Andrew Mikhail are committed to practicing the highest level of gentle dental care. Our comprehensive dental services include cosmetic, restorative, and preventive treatments to provide you with the best dental health possible. We look forward to giving you a reason to smile!
Photo by Daniela Araya on Unsplash