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Summertime and soft drinks go together so naturally that we forget to think about the amount of sugar being consumed. Soda is bubbly, refreshing and also our nation’s biggest source of refined sugar. It may taste delightful but the effect on your teeth is appalling.

How is a colorful can of soda so destructive to your teeth? The sugar in soft drinks combines with bacteria in the tooth plaque to form acid. This acid, in addition to the acid already present in the drink, attacks teeth. A new acid attack begins with every sip and lasts for 20 to 40 minutes.

If it is not removed by brushing and flossing or washed away by saliva, this acid eats away through the protective layer of the tooth called enamel. Loss of tooth enamel can cause cavities. Prolonged exposure to acid and sugar can cause a wide range of painful and expensive dental problems. It can even cause your new fillings and crowns to deteriorate.

The harmful effect of soda on your teeth and overall health has inspired the city of Philadelphia to place a tax on soda and other sugar-laden beverages. The funds will go toward pre-K programs, public parks and recreation services and to assist the municipal budget. Other cities are taking note of their example.

Prevention is the only way to reduce harmful tooth decay from excess sugar. You should either not consume the offending sugars at all or cut down on consumption. Brushing and flossing the acids away before they have the chance to damage the teeth is helpful. Regular professional cleanings by your dentist will ensure that plaque is removed from your teeth. This will lessen the chance that acid is trapped on your teeth.

According to a study from Harvard School of Public Health, half of all people in the United States consume a sugary beverage each day. Children in the United States averaged 244 calories a day from sugary beverages between 1998 and 2004. And these numbers have only been increasing!

Note that “sugar” includes hidden sugars such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, honey and molasses. There are tons of studies with various statistics but no matter what you read, the bottom line is the same – we are battering our bodies with an overload of sugar!

Even if you choose diet soda to avoid the sugar, be aware that most sodas (regular or sugar-free) contain both phosphoric and citric acid, which destroy enamel and limit calcium absorption. This has a direct effect on bone density; the calcium is not just important for teeth but also for healthy and strong bones.

While it’s best to avoid soft drinks as much as possible, here are some tips if you do enjoy the occasional “pop”:

  1. Following your drink, brush your teeth or at least rinse your mouth out with water to wash away excess sugar and reduce the bacteria that creates acids.
  2. Drink from a straw to reduce sugar exposure and reduce teeth stains.
  3. Avoid sipping from a bottle all day long, as this provides a constant supply of sugar and acids. Enjoy your occasional soft drink with a meal or immediately after, when saliva is abundant to help wash away the acid
  4. Chew sugarless gum with Xylitol. Chewing gum encourages the production of saliva in the mouth and Xylitol helps neutralize acid and repair damaged enamel.
  5. Choose smile-friendly water. Avoid drinks high in sugar and acid such as juices, sports drinks and flavored water.
  6. Visit your dentist regularly to make sure that he or she catches any early damage to your teeth. A product called MI Paste can be prescribed or distributed by your dentist to help repair damaged enamel with milk-derived calcium.

Happy Summertime!