Americans drink roughly 576 soft drinks every year - about one and a half cans a day for everyone in the United States. Drinking these beverages places the people who may not follow proper oral hygiene techniques at a higher risk for cavities and other oral health problems.
However, according to a report in the May/June 2005 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal, drinking soft drinks and other beverages through a properly positioned straw can help to minimize the risk of cavities.
The report tracked patient drinking habits and found that different factors - such as the frequency of sipping and the amount of time the beverage remains in the mouth - affect the type, location and severity of tooth decay.
For example, decay will be concentrated in the back molars of a person who drinks directly from a can and allows the liquid to pool in the mouth. Or, decay will be found on the teeth in the front of the mouth in a person who drinks through a straw positioned at the front of the mouth, right behind the lips.
"Your best option is to sip soft drinks and other beverages through a straw positioned towards the back of the mouth," advises Mohamed A. Bassiouny, DMD, MSc, PhD, and lead reporter. "Doing so will limit the amount of time the beverage is in contact with the teeth."
However, even when drinking through a straw, the teeth located in the back of the mouth are still bathed with sugary and acidic liquids. "Try rinsing your mouth with water after drinking and use toothpaste that contains fluoride," advises AGD spokesperson Paula Jones, DDS, FAGD. "Your teeth aren't thirsty, your throat is."
Soft drinks contain one or more acids, commonly phosphoric and citric acids. Non-colas and canned iced teas also contain flavor additives, such as malic, tartaric and other organic acids, which are more aggressive at eroding teeth. These acids erode dental enamel, the thin outer layer of hard tissue that helps maintain the tooth structure and shape, while protecting it from decay.
A dentist can tell when a patient gets cavities from drinking acidic beverages, such as soft drinks, since the decayed areas are often darker in color and takes up more space on the tooth. The cavities also often appear near the gumline.
"Enjoying an occasional soft drink in moderation will likely not cause significant damage," says Dr. Bassiouny. "However, substituting these beverages as a replacement for water may cause significant, irreversible long-term problems and damage."
Dr. Jones also encourages patients who have cavities caused by erosion to substitute a glass of water for one soft drink every day, and increase the water for soft drinks, until the soft drink intake has been severely limited.
Tips for Healthy Drinking:
Materials provided by Academy of General Dentistry. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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