how does diet soda cause cavities

Does Diet Soda Cause Cavities?

Most of us know that sugary snacks and drinks can harm your child’s teeth.  As a result, some of us choose sugar-free sodas and natural fruit juices believing we’re solving the problem while satisfying a sweet tooth.  But diet soda does cause cavities, and some fruit juices and sports drinks are guilty as charged, too.  How?  The answer lies with understanding the role acids play in oral health. Indeed, sugar is not the only cavity-causing culprit found in food and drinks.  Citric acids and phosphoric acids are villains in this equation, too. Once you understand the important role of acids in the formation in tooth decay, you’ll understand why diet sodas do indeed cause cavities!

How Diet Sodas Promote Cavities

Diet Sodas Contain Harmful Acids that Dissolve Tooth Enamel

The outer layer of teeth, tooth enamel, is the strongest part of the human body! According to Science Focus magazine, tooth enamel is “stronger than steel.”  At the same time, it’s not indestructible.  Acids found in sodas—even diet sodas—can dissolve your child’s tooth enamel.  Of course, diet sodas at least don’t have the added punch of the abrasiveness of the sugar added to the mix which is even harder on tooth enamel, but it’s not harmless, either.  Regular loss of tooth enamel eventually leads to tooth sensitivity and/or tooth decay.

Every Sip of Soda Equals a 20-Minute Acid Attack on Your Child’s Oral Health

Each time your child sips a soda or any highly acidic drink, the acids attack their teeth for about 20 minutes.  To explain, in a healthy mouth, saliva has a pH level between 6.2 and 7.6.  This pH level keeps tooth enamel happy because it’s near the neutral (7) or slightly basic range.  Each sip of diet soda or acidic fruit juices, however, causes the pH level in your child’s mouth to drop.  A pH of 5.5 marks the point at which enamel dissolves or demineralizes.  A sip of an acidic drink like diet soda causes such a dip to occur, and your child’s mouth needs about 20 minutes to produce enough saliva to return the pH level back to that more ideal range.

boy frowns showing displeasure how diet soda attacks teeth for 20 minutes 199x300 1

Fruit Juices and Sports Drinks Can Cause Cavities, Too!

Because acids play such an important role in tooth decay, fruit juices and sports drinks can also lead to enamel erosion and cavities in your child.  Shockingly, a recent study showed that apple juice and orange juice were 5 times more erosive than the sugar-free soda they also tested! Many sports drinks and energy drinks contain high levels of sugars and acids as well, so parents should be aware before using them as a pop alternative!

TIP: Find the pH Level of Your Child’s Favorite Drink.

Luckily for parents, the American Dental Association put together a comprehensive drink list.  This helpful list shows the pH levels of common juices, sports drinks, and sodas, so you can see how your child’s favorite drink measures up!  Remember, a pH level of 5.5 or lower causes enamel erosion!  Do you need to rethink your child’s drink?  Check out the ADA’s list to see.

5 Tips to Minimize the Harmful Effects Sodas, Juices, and Sports Drinks on Teeth

Of course, in a perfect world, our children would crave a glass of water as much as a cup of OJ in the morning!  In the real world, though, we understand that there are special times and occasions where parents allow their children to drink sodas, juices, and sports drinks.  For these times, we offer these tips to minimize their negative impact.

  1. One and Done: Drink Acidic Drinks in Moderation:

    Limit your child to one acidic drink per day. In other words, do not allow more than one cup of juice, soda, or sports drink per day.
  2. Don’t Let it Last:

    Make sure your child drinks sweet or acidic drinks quickly.  Remember what we said above: each sip equals 20 minutes of acidic attach on teeth!  Thus, the quicker they drink it, the less time it will take their pH level to return to a non-erosive level.
  3. Drink It Through a Straw:

    By drinking pop or juice through a straw, less acid will come in direct contact with teeth!
  4. Rinse with Water when Done:

    In an effort to wash away lingering sugars and acids, children should rinse their mouths with water after consuming these types of drinks.
  5. Delay Brushing:

    Don’t let your child brush your teeth right after drinking sugary or acidic drinks! Wait at least 20 minutes after the last sip to give tooth enamel to re-harden after the acid attack, so their brush doesn’t scratch and harm softened enamel. When they do brush, make sure they are using fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen their enamel!

Food choices, 

The Best Drink for Your Child’s Oral Health

Of course, the best drink choice for your child is water!  Sipping water throughout the day maintains a healthy mouth and pH levels for all of us! You can also make your own flavors by adding some mint leaves or cucumber slices.  Delicious!

make healthy cucumber water for alternative to diet soda and fruit juices 199x300 1

Would you like to learn more about how drink and snack choices impact your child’s oral health?

Pediatric dentists Dr. Laura Adelman and Dr. Rachel Rosen enjoy discussing the role nutrition plays in oral health.  They are accepting new patients under the age of 12.  Call or fill out our online appointment request form today to make an appointment for your child. Your child will love our no needles, no fear laser dentistry and minimally invasive dental treatment options.


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