Compared to regular carbonated soft drinks are diet drinks a healthier alternative for you or your teeth? The answers are slightly different to this two part question. For your teeth the answer is not really and for your health the answer appears to be not at all.
Let’s talk about teeth first. As you may know, the bacteria in your mouth eat and drink what you do. They especially like sugars of any type…processed cane (sucrose), milk (lactose), fruit (fructose). The bacteria ingest these sugars, especially sucrose, and produce acids as waste products. These acids are what cause cavities in teeth. To put it bluntly, bacteria eat sugar and pee acid which rots your teeth.
Soft drinks are particularly harmful for teeth for several reasons. They are full of sugar, they are very acidic themselves, and people tend to drink them over extended time periods. While guzzling soft drinks down would not be helpful health wise, it actually would do less harm to the teeth than sipping slowly. It takes your mouth about 45 minutes for your saliva to “clear” the effects of any acid attack.
So wouldn’t diet drinks be less harmful to the teeth since they don’t have sugar. The answer is not really for two reasons. First, these drinks are still very acidic themselves. Second, studies have shown that over time the bacteria will “learn” how to metabolize (use) most artificial sweeteners just like they do sugar.
I tell my patients there are only two things they can sip on all day and not hurt their teeth. They are water and unsweetened tea. Water is obvious. Unsweetened tea is also great because not only does it not contain sugar, but because it is basic (meaning the opposite of acidic). So tea, as long as its unsweetened, actually helps counteract acid.
Now the health effects of soft drinks. As you would expect, people who drink a lot of sugary soft drinks tend to be overweight and have a higher incidence of diabetes and metabolic syndrome (a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and large waist measurement).
So wouldn’t diet drinks be better? The answer is they are probably even worse.
They taste very sweet and may dull our sense of taste to foods like fruit with lower concentrations of natural sugars. So our diet may end up containing fewer healthy foods.
They stimulate insulin production which puts us at increased risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome just like regular sodas.
People who drink diet sodas may have even more weight problems. This may be a “chicken or egg” phenomenon, but statistically those who drink diet drinks are heavier. Even though they are sweet, they do not make us less hungry. There’s also a psychological effect of thinking “since I saved calories on my soda, I can eat more pizza, etc.”
Diet sodas have also been implicated in frequent headaches in some people, in increased rates of osteoporosis, depression, and heart disease.
Both diet and regular soda’s cause us many problems in and of themselves, but there is one more issue. Your body desperately needs to be well hydrated with WATER. When we quench our thirsts with these harmful sodas, diet and regular, we are not putting in our body what it needs. Water is beneficial to our entire body and even to the teeth as it helps wash away food particles left in the mouth before the bacterial can eat them and “pee” in your mouth.
Dr David Ward practices comprehensive general dentistry in Big Spring. He is a member of the Permian Basin Dental Society, the Texas and American Dental Associations, the Institute for Advanced Laser Dentistry, the International Dental Implant Association, and the Academy of GP Orthodontics.