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Nothing tastes better than a cold drink on a hot day or after a workout to quench your thirst. Unfortunately, many people casually reach for a soda or sports drink instead of what their body really needs – water.

A diet high in added sugar can be a threat to your overall health, including your dental health. Many people associate soda and sugar with weight gain but fail to realize it can have a negative effect on their teeth as well.

Research shows that some soft drinks on the market are as acidic as battery acid! Regular exposure to drinks with high acidity cause rapid loss of tooth enamel and rampant decay.

Think about this: A 20-ounce bottle of soda contains the equivalent of approximately 16 teaspoons of sugar! The most recent guidelines from the American Heart Association recommend that Americans should consume no more than six to nine teaspoons of sugar daily. If you drink one 20-ounce bottle of soda a day, you are already over the recommended limit.

Most people already know that a can of a carbonated regular soda has a high amount of sugar. However, diet drinks, juices, sports drinks and energy drinks are not smile-smart substitutes either. All of these beverages have tons of added sugar and can promote dental decay.

All regular and diet sodas contain phosphoric and citric acid. Those ingredients can cause erosion of tooth enamel leading to dental decay. Energy drinks, electrolyte replacing sports drinks, flavored waters, lemonades and canned iced teas are even more acidic as they also contain flavor additives such as malic, tartaric, and other organic acids. These additives are even more aggressive at eroding teeth. Fruit juices are not a healthy substitute for actual fruit – they are packed with sugar and acid and lack the many benefits of fresh fruit.

Decay starts with bacteria in the mouth that feeds on the sugar left on the teeth. Bacteria release acid as a byproduct, which then dissolves the calcium in your teeth. This acid causes weakening of the tooth enamel and gums leading to decay and gingivitis. The addition of acid from dietary sources can be double-trouble for teeth, especially in people who don’t floss regularly.

Enjoying an occasional soft drink in moderation will not cause any significant damage. But substituting these beverages as a replacement for water may cause significant, irreversible long-term problems and damage.

How to quench your thirst wisely:

  • Drink plenty of water – dry mouth increases the growth of bacteria and leads to decay and enamel erosion.
  • Drink soft drinks with a complete meal. Chewing and digesting increases saliva production, which neutralizes acids and helps minimize tooth decay.
  • Enjoy soft drinks in moderation – limit to no more than one can a day.
  • Use a straw when drinking soft drinks to keep the liquid away from your teeth. Avoid swishing or holding soda in your mouth.
  • Choose fresh fruit as a healthy substitute for juice. Children who drink several glasses of juice a day have 65% more decay compared to water drinkers. Apples and other hard fruit also help to remove plaque from teeth.
  • Pick cranberry juice as your juice of choice. Research suggests that cranberries may prevent bacteria from sticking to the teeth, helping to reduce tooth decay.
  • Chew sugar-free Xylitol gum after enjoying a soft drink to stimulate saliva flow and inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Rinse with water after drinking a soft drink to rinse away sugar and acid from teeth.
  • Give your child juice or milk in a cup instead of a bottle or a Sippy-cup to minimize exposure to acid and sugars. If you leave a child with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or sweetened water for the night or allow them to sip throughout the day, it can lead to early childhood caries or baby bottle decay.
  • Using fluoridated toothpaste as fluoride has many functions: it prevents the growth of bacteria, neutralizes saliva and builds tooth enamel.
  • Provide fluoridated water is by far the most tooth-friendly beverage. Give it to your child to fortify their developing teeth by building stronger enamel. Some local water is fluoridated but many filtering systems, including reverse osmosis used in many homes, tend to filter out fluoride. If your child drinks filtered or bottled water, talk with your dentist or pediatrician about a fluoride dietary supplement or switch to fluoridated bottled water that can be found in any supermarket.

Consider a glass of water the next time you grab a drink or pour one for your child. Try adding fresh fruit slices and herbs to give it flavor. Cucumber and mint leaves are a refreshing combination! Your body and your smile will be grateful.