How Beverages Harm Your Teeth

The world is becoming increasingly aware of how what we eat and drink can affect our health. However, one part of the body is often ignored when it comes to consumption… the mouth. Yes, we know that candy and sugar-filled foods are bad for the teeth. But did you ever think about how what you drink affects your mouth?


I spoke to American Dental Association (ADA) spokesperson Richard Price, DMD, who affirmed that even beverages only in your mouth briefly bathe your teeth in sugar, chemicals, acid and coloring agents as they pass through. We talked about how various drinks affect the teeth…

  • Soft drinks. One 12-ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar and 20-ounce bottles are loaded with 17 teaspoons. While you would never dream of shoveling this amount of sugar into your mouth, it goes down pretty easily in a soft drink. More sugar brings more risk of decay… and acid may be even worse. Both regular and diet sodas commonly contain phosphoric or citric acid that erodes tooth enamel and can lead to softening, demineralization, erosion (the wearing away of enamel), cavities and tooth sensitivity. Acid erosion and heavy consumption of dark-hued soft drinks such as cola also stains teeth.
  • Juices and juice drinks. In terms of overall health, pure juices are a better choice than sugar-filled juice drinks, but both pose problems for teeth. Fruit juices are naturally high in sugar (higher than fruit, in fact, since the pulp and fiber are removed) and may have even more sugar than some juice drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Not only that, but citrus-based lemonade, orange juice, grapefruit juice, etc., are high in acid. Dark juices (especially grape) cause staining.
  • Sports and energy beverages. Sports beverages, energy drinks and vitamin waters may promise a surge of power on the playing field or at the office, but they, too, are frequently laced with sugar, acid and food coloring.
  • Coffee and tea. There are plenty of health benefits to both coffee and tea, but be aware that just as they stain tea cups, they can also stain teeth. Sweetening them with sugar can also contribute to decay.
  • Milk. Even though it contains lactose (milk sugar), milk is also high in calcium, which makes it a better beverage choice for teeth. Calcium strengthens tooth enamel and can neutralize the effects of acid.
  • Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are made from fermented sugars and often contain significant residual sugar, and the mixers used with them also contain sugar and acid, so Dr. Price notes that in excess these can be harmful to the teeth. If you drink enough to lead to a hangover, the resulting dehydration and dry mouth can be detrimental to oral health since it produces conditions favorable to decay. Red wine is notorious for staining teeth. To offset this effect, alternate sips of wine with sips of water. Although white wine by itself is not a “stainer,” it may make teeth more susceptible to staining by other beverages, i.e., grape juice, tea, coffee, etc. If you choose these drinks, it’s actually better for your teeth to have them with meals rather than in-between.


After consuming beverages, swish water around in your mouth — and don’t brush your teeth. It may seem counter-intuitive, but brushing at this point does more harm than good. By softening enamel, acids in beverages such as cola, sports and energy drinks or citrus drinks make teeth more susceptible to abrasion from toothpaste. Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing.

More strategies to protect your pearly whites include…

  • Use a straw. To minimize staining and exposure to sugar and acid, use straws to keep the liquids from swishing around in your mouth.
  • Near bedtime, avoid soda, sports drinks and juices. Saliva production decreases while you sleep, and since saliva is what neutralizes acid and tames bacteria that cause decay, nighttime sweet drinks may be especially damaging.
  • Do not brush your teeth vigorously. Use a soft-bristled, ADA-approved toothbrush that is gentler on enamel.
  • Consider dental sealants. Especially if you are cavity-prone, dental sealants — protective plastic coatings on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth — can help stave off decay.
  • Review the medications you take with your dentist. Many drugs (including antihistamines, antidepressants, high blood pressure and asthma medications) cause dry mouth as a side effect, which in turn can lead to decay and erosion.