In the US, we might call it pop, soda, cola, coke, or even tonic: it’s the sugary, bubbly beverage you might enjoy with your meal at a restaurant, at home from a bottle, or on-the-go from a convenience store. Though it’s a great tasty treat, it’s also pretty well-known that pop isn’t great for your health, including your teeth. But why is pop bad for your teeth?
Why Is Pop Bad For Your Teeth?
Pop is bad for your teeth for two reasons. First, it’s very sugary, which is great for the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gingivitis. Since these bacteria cause cavities, also known as dental caries, this effect of sugary pop may be called cariogenic. Second, pop is acidic, which eats away at the enamel on teeth and weakens them. This effect of pop is called acidogenic, and it results in dental erosion. Let’s take a closer look at the acidogenic and cariogenic effects of pop, and see why it is bad for teeth.
Pop Dissolves Tooth Enamel
One of the bad effects of pop on teeth is its ability to eat away at tooth enamel. This occurs because pop is acidic. Pop, soda, and all soft drinks, as well as fruit juices and many other drinks, contain acids to make them fizzy and add flavor. Carbonic acid gives soft drinks their fizz. Citric acid and phosphoric acid are commonly added for their tart flavor. This acidic quality is present even in diet and sugar-free sodas.
Though different soda drinks vary in their acidity, most of these drinks have a pH around 3.0. On the pH scale, acids are closer to a pH of zero, bases are closer to a pH of 14, and pure water is considered neutral, with a pH of 7.
How Does it Work?
Acids are known for their dissolving properties, but how does this actually work?
Acids work by disrupting the bonds between atoms. Acids are positively charged and tend to steal away electrons from other atoms and molecules, causing them to break down and fall apart. Tooth enamel is made primarily from calcium phosphate, which is arranged in a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. When acids come into contact with this crystalline structure, the positive charge steals away electrons and the elaborate structure of tooth enamel weakens. Fluoride toothpaste actually works the opposite way; the fluoride bonds with the calcium phosphate and strengthens the hydroxyapatite with fluorapatite.
Once the tooth enamel is weakened by acid, it’s easier for other forces, like abrasion, to wear away the enamel. Weak enamel is also more vulnerable to bacteria. The bacteria can then create holes in the enamel, also known as cavities or dental caries, and invade the tooth.
Sugary Pop Feeds Bacteria That Cause Cavities
Bacteria are everywhere, and not all of them are bad. The bacteria that are primarily responsible for dental cavities are Streptococci mutans and Streptococci sanguinis. This name may sound a bit familiar. The streptococci family of bacteria includes about 50 different bacteria species which play a part in numerous diseases like strep throat and meningitis, but can also be helpful, like the species which is important in the making of Swiss cheese.
The Streptococci mutans and Streptococci sanguinis bacteria, as well as many other bacteria, stick to our teeth and feed on the sugars and starches leftover from the foods and drinks we consume. These particular bacteria live in sticky biofilm, which can harden in plaque if it’s not brushed away. Biofilm and plaque create havens for bacteria, where they collect and multiply on teeth.
How Does It Work?
As these bacteria feed on sugars and starches, they produce acids which eat away at the calcium in teeth enamel. The bacterial colonies and the acids they produce create small holes in teeth—cavities.
If these small holes aren’t cleaned and filled by a dentist, the bacteria will continue to multiply and destroy more parts of the teeth. As these holes get larger and affect softer parts of the tooth, like the tooth pulp, nerves, and blood vessels, the tooth will start to become painful, discolored, and may even die. This also creates an entry point for other bacteria, and an infection can occur.
One can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar. Though most of the sugar continues on to your stomach, some gets leftover, stuck to your teeth and ending up as fuel for bacteria. Since few people brush their teeth after drinking pop, and lots of people continually sip pop throughout the day, bacteria may be feeding and producing acids all day long. This, combined with the erosion already occurring from the acids in the pop itself, makes pop bad for teeth. Of course, pop isn’t the only beverage that’s bad for your teeth; fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks and more all share similar levels of acids and sugars.
Should You Stop Drinking Pop?
Pop is bad for your teeth, and it’s not a great health choice overall. In general, if you drink pop on a regular basis, it’s a great idea to cut down. Just like any unhealthy indulgence, it makes the most sense as a treat. Try replacing some of your pop with water, and drink pop maybe once a week, or on special occasions. If you do drink pop daily, don’t drink it all day long. Instead, finish a can and drink water instead. If you find yourself missing pop, consider the tooth enamel you’re saving, and all the Streptococci bacteria you aren’t feeding.