Why Soda Is Bad for Your Teeth

Chemistry of Soda and Tooth Decay

If you drink soda through a straw, you'll minimize contact with teeth and lessen damage and risk of tooth decay.
If you drink soda through a straw, you'll minimize contact with teeth and lessen damage and risk of tooth decay. Tim Macpherson, Getty Images

You've heard soda is bad for your teeth, but it is really true? If it is, why is it bad?

Answer: Yes, soda damages your teeth. Drinking a carbonated beverage is actually one of the worst things you can do for your dental health. The reason is because the carbonation that makes soda bubbly also makes it extremely acidic. Many sodas also contain citric acid, which gives the drink a tangy flavor, but destroys teeth.

It's a one-two punch with sweetened sodas, because the low pH attacks tooth enamel, while the sugar feeds bacteria that cause decay. You're not off the hook drinking diet soda, because it's mainly the acid in soda that harms teeth.

How To Minimize Damage To Teeth From Soda

The best way to minimize damage to your teeth from soda is to avoid drinking it. If you can't give it up, try to reduce how often you drink it and follow these tips:

  • Avoid colas and regular orange soda. Regular, diet, or flavored cola is the most acidic. The one with the highest sugar content is regular orange soda. Consider testing a sweetened soda to see how much sugar it contains. The results may surprise you! Non-colas drinks are still terrible for your teeth because they contain higher levels of citric acid. The pH of these drinks may be higher, but citric acid binds to calcium and erodes enamel.
  • Sip soda through a straw. Drinking through a straw minimizes the contact between teeth and the acidic drink.
  • If you must drink soda, try to have it with food rather than by itself. Food helps regulate the pH inside your mouth, limiting the acid attack on teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after drinking soda. This will help neutralize the pH and reduce the level of sugar. Alternatively, eat a dairy food. Dairy products help remineralize tooth enamel. You could also chew on a crunchy vegetable or xylitol-containing gum. This helps clean teeth.
  • Don't brush your teeth right after drinking a soda. It sounds like it would be a good idea, but it actually makes a bad situation worse because the mechanical action of the toothbrush erodes weakened enamel. Allow at least half an hour after drinking soda (or eating anything acidic, like citrus or sour candy) before grabbing the toothbrush.
  • Switch to root beer. Genuine root beer contains natural carbonation, so it doesn't contain the same levels of destructive phosphoric acid or citric acid.

You can test how bad soda is for your teeth. If you can get hold of teeth (they don't need to be human teeth), soak them in soda and watch how quickly the dissolve. An easier option is to soak chicken bones. Bones aren't quite as hard as teeth, but are chemically similar. The acid strips calcium from teeth and bones. Bones are left rubbery because they contain a lot of collagen. Teeth dissolve almost completely.