Diet soda can have the same effect on your tooth enamel as methamphetamine or crack cocaine use -- and it's not pretty.
In a three-person case study published in the March/April 2013 issue of the journal General Dentistry, Dr. Mohamed Bassiouny studied the teeth of a diet soda drinker and two drug addicts and found similar dental erosion among all three.
"You look at it side-to-side with 'meth mouth' or 'coke mouth,' it is startling to see the intensity and extent of damage more or less the same," Bassiouny, a professor of restorative dentistry at Temple University's Kornberg School of Dentistry, told HealthDay.
The three participants included a woman in her thirties who drank two liters of diet soda daily for three to five years, a 29-year-old methamphetamine addict and a 51-year-old habitual crack cocaine addict, according to the case study. All three came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and lived in urban areas with fluoridated public water.
According to an Academy of General Dentistry press release, the three people experienced severe erosion of their tooth enamel, a condition caused by acid. When the enamel is worn away, teeth become more susceptible to cavities and other problems. Diet soda, methamphetamine and crack cocaine are all highly acidic substances, the release notes.
The American Beverage Association disputed the study's claims, telling HealthDay in a statement that "the body of available science does not support that beverages are a unique factor in causing tooth decay or erosion," and to imply that diet soda consumption caused the woman's tooth erosion "is irresponsible."
However, in an interview with Business Insider, Bassiouny defended his comparison, adding that over a long dental career he had observed hundreds of similar soda-caused erosion cases.
"I was trying to make a parallel between drug abusers — and the usual neglect for themselves — and put this with the same traits of someone who drinks diet soda," Bassiouny said.
The problems with soda are twofold: first, the sugar content is bad for your teeth (but that fact is pretty obvious). The second bad part is the acidity, which is quite high in soda pop. Acidic content (aka pH) is measured on a scale of 0 (most acidic) to 14 (least). Battery acid is a 1 on the scale -- tap water is a 7 (this may seem backwards, but yes, the higher numbers are less acidic. Blame science.)
While dried fruits may be a definite step up from processed fruit snacks, they are still sticky and high in sugar. That means they not only adhere to teeth easily, but the sugar feeds the bacteria in the mouth, which can promote dental erosion, notes Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "I'm not saying don't eat them, but just brush your teeth afterward," Dubost says. Messina adds that regular fresh fruits don't typically have this problem because -- even though they still have sugar -- chewing them up promotes saliva and they don't stick to the teeth. "Fruits are generally pretty safe because they're good for overall health and they're chewy, so your average fruit has some substance to it and we chew through it, causing us to salivate more," Messina says. "Saliva is a good thing because it has washing action and it's a nautral buffer [to] acid."
Sugary drinks, such as sodas and sports drinks, are especially bad for teeth when sipping for long periods of time. "If I have a soft drink or sports drink and I'm sipping it every 20 minutes, my teeth are getting bathed with a constant layer of acid," Messina says. "So sitting down and drinking it all at once, or with a meal, is better than snacking or sipping throughout a meal." For this reason, Dubost recommends that parents don't fill their kids' sippy cups with sugary drinks, since kids, whose teeth are still developing, tend to sip at those drinks over long periods of time.
For the same reason sipping on sodas all day is bad for teeth, hard candies aren't ideal for oral health, Dubost notes. These sweets pack a double whammy in that they not only stick to the teeth, but they also linger in the mouth for a long time as you wait for them to dissolve.
You may not realize it, but alcohol can be bad for the teeth, as it causes natural saliva production to decrease, according to the Yale Medical Group. And again, saliva helps to wash away food particles and provides a buffer against acid. People who are alcoholics may experience dental and gum disease since "alcohol irritates all the soft tissue in the mouth and it decreases the amount of natural saliva," Dr. Parimal Nagjee, a dentist in Beverly Hills, told The Fix. "In terms of the tissue, the skin of the mouth is very delicate and the alcohol is corrosive to the gums, cheeks and skin. It can affect the way the tissue cells divide, which is why people who drink heavily have a greater chance of getting mouth or throat cancer.”
Foods high in acid, such as citrus or tomatoes, can promote tooth decay, especially when eaten alone, Dubost notes. But these foods are fine to eat so long as you flush your mouth with water after consuming them in order to buffer the acid. Citrus not only has acid, but also sugar -- and people who have a habit of sucking on lemons or limes are actually harmfully bathing their teeth in acid, Messina says. "If you look in their mouths, their teeth have a shiny, glossy surface -- that's from constant bathing with the acids," he says. "They will have almost a peculiar look in that you'll see it on the front surfaces of their teeth, but not the back sides of the lower front teeth because those are under the tongue -- and the tongue protects the surface of teeth."
Starchy foods, such as potato chips and white bread, easily get trapped in teeth, which can then feed the bacteria that make up plaque, according to the Yale Medical Group.
Not only do drinks like coffee and tea stain the teeth, they also make the teeth stickier -- meaning more food particles can latch on, Messina says.
Dr. Gore recalls the food and beverages with the most harmful effects on your teeth.