If your teeth are one of the hardest parts of your body, then how could soda damage them? Tune in to learn more.
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So there’s an urban myth, if you will, that soda can dissolve a tooth overnight. The Internet has thoroughly busted it. But just because it’s proven that hanging onto a mouthful of cola for upwards of 12 hours won’t hollow out your jaw, that doesn’t mean you should try it. Soft drinks can indeed damage your pearly whites. But how, and how much?
Let’s talk teeth. Your teeth have four basic layers: the root, the pulp, the dentin protecting the pulp, and the enamel. Tooth enamel is the hardest tissue the human body produces. Because it’s not alive, it can’t repair itself.
That means it takes damage from daily wear and tear, including what we eat and drink. There are two types of trouble drinks can cause: all-over erosion due to the acids they contain, and spot decay caused by the bacteria that grow on your teeth.
Both come down to a pH imbalance. On a scale from zero to xenomorph, the human mouth has a pretty neutral pH level: something around 6.8. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being the most base or alkaline, and 7 being neutral – like pure water.
Some of the bacteria in your mouth are sugar-hungry. When you consume sweet stuff like soda, they throw the bacterial equivalent of a house party: They’ll link up into colonies on your teeth called a biofilm or plaque and feast on the sugar. And they’ll excrete acids, which can weaken your enamel wherever they’ve hunkered down, eventually causing cavities. “But Ben,” you might say, “I only drink sugar-free sodas.” That’ll save you from cavities, but all sodas contain acids of their own.
On the pH scale, soft drinks have been found to range from around 4.0 to 2.4. For comparison, battery acid is a 1. Your saliva should bring your mouth back to normal within half an hour or so, but your enamel can be affected by anything from about a 5.5 or below.
The erosion and decay caused by chronic soda consumption can be rampant – and yes, that’s the official medical term. In one case study, soda abuse was found to do dental damage equivalent to meth or crack abuse.
Dentists recommend using straws and rinsing with water after drinking any acidic or sugary stuff. They also stress brushing twice a day with fluoride or remineralizing products to help maintain your enamel. (It can’t heal itself from the inside the way your bones do, but the mineral structure can be buffeted from the outside.)
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