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Do Soft Drinks Really Dissolve Tooth Enamel?

By Miranda Fine
Updated May 17, 2024
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Soft drinks really do dissolve tooth enamel. This fact can be added to the litany of negatives that most people heard about soft drinks, including the lack of nutrients, the empty calories, their contribution to child obesity, and the way they tend to replace more nutritious drinks in many people's diets.

A study published in the journal General Dentistry in 2004 concluded that soft drinks “aggressively” harm teeth, although a spokesperson for the soft drink industry argued that the study was “not realistic.” The study featured slices of enamel from freshly pulled teeth that were placed in different types of soft drinks and weighed and measured before and after exposure. Damage to enamel begins within a few minutes of exposure, but it is cumulative exposure that leads to the most damage. In other words, people who drink soft drinks frequently are most at risk.

It is not the sugars in soft drinks that dissolve tooth enamel, but the high acid content. Diet and regular soft drinks dissolve enamel equally. The measure of acid in a liquid is measured on the pH scale, from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral and anything below this number is considered acidic. Water, as an example, has a pH of close to 7. In contrast, the average pH of the soft drinks sampled for the study was between 2 and 3. Battery acid has a pH of about 1.

The acids that dissolve tooth enamel that are present in soft drinks are citric acid and phosphoric acid. They are also found in sport and energy drinks, which harm teeth in the same way. Damage to the teeth happens very quickly. For example, fruit juice also has a relatively high acid content, but cola soft drinks caused ten times more damage within the first three minutes of exposure.

Other non-cola soft drinks and canned iced tea seem to be even worse. Other acidic drinks, such as brewed tea, coffee, and root beer are not as damaging, however. Beyond forgoing soft drinks, some experts urge drinking them through a straw in order to limit the amount of time that the teeth are exposed to the acid. Some also warn that eating large quantities of high-acid foods, such as lemons, yogurt, juice, and pickles, may cause similar damage to tooth enamel over time.

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Discussion Comments
By orangey03 — On Dec 04, 2012

My mother insisted that diet sodas were not bad for tooth enamel, since they didn't contain sugar. I am going to show her this article, because she drinks two diet sodas a day!

I am also going to tell her that switching to water is not as hard as it seems. I did it, and now I feel so much healthier. I also don't worry about winding up with no tooth enamel.

By kylee07drg — On Dec 04, 2012

I am going to start using a straw when I drink soda. I can't just quit cold turkey, so maybe the straw will help.

By cloudel — On Dec 03, 2012

This article is not good news for me. I recently gave up soda to reduce tooth enamel decay, but I started drinking lemonade and cranapple juice instead, which I see are also acidic.

I eat a carton of yogurt everyday to prevent yeast infections and for good digestion. I don't want to give up my yogurt, lemonade, and fruit juice!

By Perdido — On Dec 03, 2012

@turkay1 – There are a few things you can do to lessen tooth enamel wear. Washing your mouth out with water right after drinking a soda is one of them.

Another thing that I often do after drinking a soda is chew sugarless gum with xylitol in it. This helps neutralize the acid and clean my teeth.

My dentist told me to wait at least thirty minutes after drinking a soda to brush my teeth. He said that my enamel would be soft and vulnerable during this time, and brushing would only wear it off more.

By candyquilt — On Dec 02, 2012

I knew soft drinks were acidic, but I had no idea that they were acidic enough to harm teeth enamel. Unfortunately, I was drinking a soda while reading this article.

Aside from giving up sodas, is there anything we can do as a precautionary measure to prevent tooth enamel erosion?

For example, would it help to drink some water after drinking a soda to flush out the acid from the teeth?

I know that doctors give this suggestion to prevent cavities. They say to drink water after fruits and sweets to flush out the sugar.

By bluedolphin — On Dec 01, 2012

Is there a way to restore tooth enamel that has been dissolved and damaged by soft drinks?

By stoneMason — On Nov 30, 2012

Oh boy. I drink a couple of soft drinks every day. I've tried giving them up and I just can't do it. I like them too much and I will get a craving for it after meals.

I also have a teeth grinding problem at night. I've noticed that my front teeth have been getting a little shorter over the years. I wonder if the soft drinks are making this worse.

By anon84434 — On May 15, 2010

My boyfriend is 28 and going for dentures, because of drinking so much soda. He is otherwise in great health. Just goes to show you that your teeth need a break from battery acid soda pop!

By anon78982 — On Apr 20, 2010

I agree entirely. I have seen the bad effects of drinking too much soda, and I try never to drink much of it myself. Soft drinks are also harmful for health reasons as well as teeth, so stay away!

By jimgaming — On Mar 10, 2010

A recent published study reported:

"Drinking two cokes per week (not per day) doubled the risk of pancreatic cancer!"

There was an immediate rush to blame 'sugar' in the cokes. This was ridiculous, why is sugar in coke any worse than 'sugar' in doughnuts, cakes, candy?

More likely, the "citric acid" in coke is the MSG (mono sodium glutamate) kind made from "corn and black mold", not from citrus!

And MSG is known to help cause obesity, because it causes a craving for more food and drink. It could be one of the causes for childhood obesity, a current concern in our society.

By anon60917 — On Jan 17, 2010

thanks! really very stubborn. i never imagined it, that it will have so high a pH scale. it must be circulated in schools for educating our kids. and soft drinks cans/ bottles must contain warning on it as well as mentioning pH scale. thanks for the wake up call.

By anon51586 — On Nov 07, 2009

Thanks for confirming what I already knew. I used to drink 3-4 cans of soda a day - and they've worn my teeth prematurely in a timescale of about 10 years.

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