Very possibly, you’re regularly drinking something that has some similarities to methamphetamine and crack cocaine, not to mention Drano and battery acid. The culprit? That would be soda. A new report out from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) found that overindulging in a different kind of coke habit (as in Coke) could horribly damage your teeth and gums—to the extent that your mouth would look a lot like a meth addict’s.
The AGD’s report was a case study comparing dental damage to three people: The first was a meth user; the second had previously used cocaine for a long time; and the third drank a boatload of diet soda—to the tune of two liters of the soda every day for three to five years. All three said they had poor oral hygiene and didn’t see a dentist regularly. Each substance—whether an illegal drug or soda—contained acid that caused dramatic erosion of each person's teeth.
Though the report was just a case study of three people, Jeffrey M. Cole, D.D.S., president of the AGD, told TakePart that this finding indicates that “the effects of diet soda can be as harmful to the teeth as illegal drug use, such as methamphetamines and crack cocaine.” Specifically, the citric acid in soda is to blame, says Dr. Cole. “The pH of most soda is in the same vicinity as vinegar.” And sugary sodas are a double whammy to your mouth: “The bacteria in plaque metabolize sugars into acid, so technically those sodas with sugar, once metabolized by the bacterial plaque, would add to the acid environment,” he adds. So while soda with sugar is a bit worse, “they are both bad,” he says, for the health of your teeth and gums.
In a press release about the case study, lead study author Mohamed A. Bassiouny, D.M.D., Ph.D., noted that in all three cases “each person experienced severe tooth erosion caused by the high acid levels present in their ‘drug’ of choice—meth, crack, or soda.” The case study was published in the journal General Dentistry.
If you have to have your soda fix, there’s a better way to do it, says Dr. Cole. “It is best to drink the diet soda in its entirety to reduce the acid attack and then to rinse the mouth with water,” he explains. “What is bad is to sip the soda all day long, which keeps the acid attack constant. It is also best to drink the diet soda with meals, as the chewing action increases saliva flow. Saliva helps to normalize the acid levels in the mouth.”
It’s especially bad to sip soda all day long, which keeps the acid attack on teeth constant.
You can also chew sugarless gum, recommends AGD spokesperson Eugene Antenucci, D.D.S. (The AGD also runs the KnowYourTeeth website, which has information on how to take care of your teeth and gums. ) “The best advice is to visit the dentist twice a year” even if you don’t have insurance, says Dr. Cole. “Dental disease is highly preventable, and in this case prevention is truly the best medicine,” he says, adding that dentists are seeing what he calls an “alarming increase in periodontal (gum) disease in young adults.” Smoking and poor oral hygiene make even young adults prone to dental problems.
If you don’t have dental insurance, you’re not alone. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is helping to bring dental benefits to children, but not to all adults. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that nearly 18 million adults will get some dental coverage through healthcare reform, but the ADA estimates that this will amount to more or better coverage for only about five percent more adults. Only about 51 percent of adults ages 19 to 34 had private dental benefits in 2010—a drop from over 57 percent in 2000.
Are you a soda drinker? Do you have dental coverage? Do you see a dentist twice a year, once a year, or rarely?
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Lorie A. Parch is a Los Angeles-based writer specializing in health and lifestyle topics. Takepart.com