Is Diet Soda Better For Your Teeth?

No. The main cause of tooth decay from soda is acidity, rather than the sugar content. Both regular and diet soda alike weaken and dissolve tooth enamel, leading to tooth sensitivity, chalky appearance, pitting in the teeth, and opacity changes.

Limiting the amount of sugar one consumes on a daily basis may help reduce waistline girth, but it doesn't necessarily equate to a healthier mouth and body. Many individuals opt for diet soda as an alternative, believing it to be a better option for weight loss. Nevertheless, the acids contained in diet drinks are just as detrimental to one's teeth as their sugary counterparts. While diet sodas may not contain sugar, they still typically cause the same amount of dental erosion.

It is widely acknowledged that soda or "pop" consumption is associated with cavities, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The sugar found in soda mixes with oral bacteria to form acids that attack teeth. These "attacks" last around 20 minutes, reinitiating after each sip. Continued acid attacks on teeth result in weakened tooth enamel and increased vulnerability to tooth decay.

Diet and sugar-free sodas contain their own acids that lead to enamel erosion, with lime and lemon drinks being especially harmful. These additives cause similar damage to oral health. In adults over 65, diet soda consumption is linked to abdominal obesity, which heightens the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

An Australian study conducted at the University of Melbourne examined 15 soft drinks to assess their effects on healthy molars. The researchers discovered that all of the drinks, including both regular and diet Coca Cola, caused tooth erosion, irrespective of sugar content. A University of Michigan study found similar results, with two weeks of regular Coca-Cola exposure causing 2.8mg of tooth enamel to dissolve and diet Coca-Cola causing 3mg of enamel degradation. The impact of citrus juices and other sugar-free beverages was also examined.

Both studies revealed that water was the most beneficial, actually strengthening tooth enamel. However, drinking soda or diet soda in moderation a few times a week carries less risk than consuming over 12 ounces per day.

How to Protect Your Teeth When Drinking Soda

To maintain strong enamel, it is advisable to consume beverages with lower acidity levels. The findings of a study undertaken by Matthew M. Rodgers and J. Anthony von Fraunhofer at the University of Michigan reveal that your optimal beverage choices are unflavored water, black tea or coffee, and root beer if you fancy a soda. After examining enamel levels two weeks after beverage consumption, these drinks displayed the least amount of enamel dissolution.

If you are still set on drinking soda, diet soda, sugar-free beverages, or juices, there are a few tips you can follow to reduce tooth decay:

  • Use a straw to limit contact between the beverage and your teeth
  • Rinse with water immediately after drinking the beverage
  • Refrain from brushing your teeth for 30 minutes to an hour after drinking the beverage, as this may spread the acids before your saliva can restore your mouth's neutral pH
  • Avoid beverages with acids listed on their ingredients label
William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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