When you are dealing with soda, nothing beats limiting the frequency of consumption. Even drinking soda once a day puts your teeth at a higher risk for acid erosion. That said, I know weaning yourself off soda isn’t something most people can do overnight, and I know some people understanding all the risks to their teeth may decide to drink soda anyway.
I am a big believer in empowering people to make their own choices, and that is a lot of what the More than Smiles Movement is about. Whether you are someone who just has an occasional soda, are someone in the process of reducing the number of sodas you drink, or someone that God forbid still slugs down sodas like there is no tomorrow, here are some tips to follow so you can limit the impact of soda to your teeth. You can do all or none of them.
10 Tips to Keep Soda from Rotting Your Teeth
- Drink diet soda rather than the full sugar kind. As we discussed last week, not only do sodas have acids in solution, but sugary sodas will provide bacteria with food to make more acids. The acids in the soda only really affect your teeth while in contact, but sugars can give bacteria food to produce acids for long after you have stopped drinking the soda.
- Watch out for citric acid in the ingredients. Drinks like Coke Zero, even though they have the plus of being sugarfree, contain tons of citric acids. Several studies have shown that since citric acid binds calcium it causes much more acid erosion that other acids found in sodas. Avoid citric acid at all costs, so look at the ingredients if you are not sure about the brand you are drinking.
- Try to drink soda as quickly as possible to limit the time of contact of the acids with your teeth. Acid erosion occurs while dietary acids from foods and drinks are in direct contact with your teeth. Gulping soda quickly is the best way to limit the time of contact. This can be difficult with the carbonation so you can try letting the bubbles go down first if that helps. Although you would think that using a straw could help, this isn’t really effective at keeping acids away from teeth, since the comfortable position of the straw and the way we drink still allows for acids to dump on teeth. Keep in mind that acid erosion is different than cavities.
- Use fluoride frequently. Frequent fluoride use as part of your daily oral hygiene routine will help maintain low levels of fluoride at the surface of your teeth, which will help fight acid erosion. Fluoride availability is essential to buffer your teeth against acids and build up enamel to resist daily wear and tear. One really easy and effective way to increase your fluoride frequency is to use a fluoride mouthwash daily. You can also do things like spitting without rinsing with water after brushing your teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste, and have your dentist apply fluoride varnish to your teeth every 4-6months. Both provide a loading dose of fluoride to increase its availability at the tooth surface. If you really want to get crazy, you can do the brush and spit (without rinsing) right before drinking soda, but this may not taste that great. FYI I am not talking about drinking soda with a mouthful of frothy toothpaste. You still need to spit it all out thoroughly, skipping the rinsing with water part allows a very thin coating to remain behind on your teeth for maximal topical effect. Swallowing a bunch of fluoride (which isn’t healthy) isn’t what we are doing here.
- Limit acids in other areas of your diet. If you really must have your favorite soda, you are going to have to prioritize and cut other dietary acids out of your day. This means laying off things like OJ and other citrus foods and drinks, going light on salad dressing, etc. Budget your acid intake.
- Use a re-balancing rinse immediately following soda. Differences salivary flow throughout your mouth mean certain areas of your mouth take longer to clear acids away with saliva. Swishing with water or even better a re-balancing rinse, can help refresh these areas quicker. The reason a re-balancing rinse works great is that with frequent acid exposures there is an additional a risk of sensitizing your oral bacteria to acids and favoring the growth of acid producing bacteria. By incorporating alkaline re-balancing rinses into your daily routine, you can reduce this negative bacterial adaptation and help fight the pH imbalances in your oral environment.
- Avoid drinking soda in the morning until after lunch. Your salivary calcium levels are lowest in the morning, and thus your teeth will be more vulnerable to acids like those found in soda. Soda is a bad idea in the morning period.
- Do not brush immediately after drinking soda. The acids in the soda will soften your enamel slightly making it more easily abraded by your toothbrush. If this is done often enough, major damage can be done. It is best to wait a minimum of 30 minutes (if you have good saliva flow) or to use a re-balancing rinse before brushing.
- Avoid eating abrasive foods while you are drinking soda. This will compound the erosive effects of soda.
- Incorporate cheeses as a snack with soda. Cheeses are obviously rich in calcium, and if you are into snacking while drinking soda this might work well for you. Increasing the concentration of calcium in your saliva will help your teeth survive acid attacks (think back to diffusion in Chemistry class). If you don’t like snacking on cheese while drinking soda, it also helps if you do it afterwards.
Don’t think that all of this makes your teeth bulletproof; soda is still bad for your teeth. Depending on your soda consumption, you may be at significant risk for acid erosion and cavities in spite of all these preventative efforts, but these tricks should help.