When you need to quench your thirst, think twice about which drink you choose. According to several dental associations around the country, including the American Dental Association, some of the most popular drinks that we consume erode enamel and lead to tooth decay.

A proper diet is essential for good dental health, states the ADA. Every time you eat, plaque forms and clings to your teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque feed on the sugars from the foods or drinks, and produce acids that eat away at minerals in the teeth and cause cavities. The higher the sugar and acid content in your food, the greater your risk of dental problems.

Tooth decay cause severe pain and are unsightly, plus they'll take a bite out of your purse to fill at your dentist. Also, poor oral health can contribute to other illnesses in the body, including heart disease. Here are the leading oral offenders you should limit or avoid so you can stay healthy and keep smiling:

1. Soda

About one in every four drinks Americans consume is soda or pop, states the ADA. One can of regular soda may contain up to 11 teaspoons of sugar, which increases your risk of tooth decay.

Furthermore, soda contains phosphoric and citric acids - acids are the main contributors to the erosion of tooth enamel. You're not out of the woods if you primarily fill up on diet sodas because these drinks also contain these eroding acids.

2. Sports and Energy Drinks

Two years ago the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) revealed that these increasingly popular drinks erode tooth enamel. That's because of their buffering capacity - which refers to a beverage's ability to neutralize acid, a key factor in dental erosion.

After taking a look at the acidity content of five popular drinks researchers found that high-energy and sports drinks had the highest mean buffering capacity, and therefore, the highest potential to erode enamel. The drinks are even more likely to cause tooth decay in adolescents and adults in their 20s whose tooth enamel is more porous.

3. Citric Juices

It's a classic catch-22: These drinks are packed with antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin C that our bodies need and really benefit from - but they contain harsh acids that strip away at tooth enamel and lead to decay. One study found that orange juice reduced the hardness of enamel by 84 percent, whereas tooth whitening with six percent hydrogen peroxide - the concentration found in most tooth whitening products - had no effect on enamel hardness.

How to Limit Tooth Erosion

Drinks such as milk and tea might erode teeth, but they also protect your pearly whites. Your best options are to drink home-brewed tea (go light on the sugar), and drink milk with meals. These tips will also help prevent tooth decay and keep your teeth strong:

  • Drink, don't sip. If you tend to sip drinks your teeth are exposed to their acids for a longer period so they'll be more at risk for erosion.

  • Use a straw. To reduce contact with your teeth use a bent straw and position it near to the back of your mouth when drinking juice, sports or energy drinks, milk and iced tea.

  • Can the soda. Stop drinking soda - what some call "empty foods" as they have no nutritional value. If quitting them is impossible, limit your intake to just three or four cans a week.

  • Choose calcium-fortified juices. Research shows that these drinks can help to prevent tooth decay, unlike un-fortified juices.

  • Brush and floss regularly. Carry a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss when you're on the go and take care of your teeth and gums in between meals and snacks.

  • Consider dental sealants. Ask your doctor about applying dental sealants to your molars, the most susceptible victims of tooth decay. These plastic seals can protect against your teeth for up to a couple of decades.

  • Drink more water. Water helps to wash away food and juice residue after a meal, plus, it doesn't have a high acid or sugar content that will increase your risk of tooth decay.




University of Rochester Medical Center press release, "Researchers Say OJ Worse for Teeth than Whitening," June 23, 2009