Are soft drinks actually soft? Soft drinks also known as carbonated beverages contain carbonated water, sweetening agent, flavouring agents and may or may not contain caffeine. The name suggests that these drinks are soft as opposed to the hard/ alcoholic beverages. However the name is misleading as the drinks are associated with an array of health risks ranging from diabetes and obesity to decrease in bone density, kidney stones etc. However the effects on teeth are the most obvious, detrimental and wide spread.
Sodas have become a recent fad especially among the young generation due to the aggressive marketing of these drinks. The teen population is one of the largest consumers of these beverages. Some individuals even claim to consume more cola than water. Looking at these facts we must understand the effect of these drinks on our teeth and heath.
Teeth are a mineralized tissue which contains a large percentage of calcium and phosphorus. The destruction of this mineralized tissue occurs in the presence of acids that can react with the calcium and phosphorous, this process is referred to as demineralization and is the first step in the destruction of the dental hard tissues that is our teeth. The acid that causes this demineralization can come from two sources the first being bacteria that are capable of producing acids and the second include non bacterial sources such as carbonated drinks, acidic fruits like oranges and lemons or gastric juices as in patients with certain medical conditions like bulimia or reflux oesophagitis.
The harmful effects of these drinks on teeth are twofold. Soft drinks contain around 10 tea spoons of sugar. The high sugar content promotes the growth of caries producing bacteria resulting in a greater risk of dental caries. The sugar is broken down by these bacteria to produce acids which in turn cause demineralization of tooth enamel. Studies indicate the occurrence of extensive carious involvement in individuals consuming these drinks on a regular basis. The carious lesions may involve the upper and lower posterior and the upper anterior teeth. The second adverse effect is due to the intrinsic acidity of these beverages. The process of carbonation involves the dissolution of carbon di oxide in water. The dissolved carbon-di oxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid. This extrinsic acid causes the pH of these drinks to be 3.0 or even lower. This low pH also contributes to the dissolution of tooth enamel a process known as erosion. Erosion initially results in the softening of tooth enamel and on repeated exposure to the acid results in actual dissolution of the dental tissues. Erosion results in clinical symptoms such as sensitivity, discolouration of teeth and pain. Consumption of diet drinks which do not contain caloric sweeteners may reduce the caries risk of these drinks , however the acid challenge remains unchanged.
It is advised that carbonated drinks if consumed should be restricted to meal times. Parents should try to restrict the consumption of these drinks and promote healthier habits such as the intake of butter milk and milk shakes. These drinks contain calcium and which helps negate the effects of acids. Soft drinks should be had with a straw and gulped down immediately there by reducing the acidic challenge to the teeth. Fluoride mouth rises which help in remineralisation of teeth should be used at least once daily and sugar free gums may be consumed that can increase the saliva production that helps in neutralizing some of the acid.
So the next time you feel the urge to take a soft drink on a hot summer day , remember that they are not soft but actually hard on your teeth.