People across Australia use different words to identify sugary drinks. Yet despite what they call it, they are talking about something that can cause serious oral health problems.
Soft drinks including fizzy drinks, sports drinks, juices and cordial, have emerged as one of the most significant dietary sources of tooth decay, affecting people of all ages. Acids and acidic sugar by-products in these drinks soften tooth enamel, contributing to the formation of cavities. In extreme cases, this softer enamel combined with improper brushing, grinding of the teeth or other conditions can lead to tooth loss.
Sugar-free drinks are less harmful. However, they are acidic and potentially can still cause problems.
We are drinking more and more
Soft drink consumption in Australia has increased dramatically across all demographic groups, especially among children and teenagers. The problem is so severe that health authorities have begun sounding the alarm about the dangers.
How many children drink soft drinks? Soft drinks are consumed by approximately one quarter of 2-7 year olds and up to a half of 16-18 year olds1.
58 per cent of young adults consume an average of 800 millilitres of soft drink per day.2
Children and adolescents are not the only people at risk. Long-term consumption of soft drinks has a cumulative effect on tooth enamel. As people live longer, more will be likely to experience problems.
What to do
Children, adolescents and adults can all benefit from reducing the number of soft drinks they consume, as well as from available oral care therapies. Here are some steps you can take:
- Substitute different drinks – Stock the refrigerator with beverages containing less sugar and acid such as water and milk. Drink them yourself and encourage your children to do the same.
- Rinse with water – After consuming a soft drink, rinse your mouth with water to remove vestiges of the drink that can prolong exposure of tooth enamel to acids.
- Use fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse – Fluoride reduces cavities and strengthens tooth enamel, so brush with fluoride toothpaste. Rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash can also help. Your dental professional can recommend an over-the-counter mouthwash or prescribe a stronger one depending on the severity of the condition. He or she also can prescribe toothpaste containing a higher concentration of fluoride.
- Get professionally applied fluoride treatment – Your dental professional can apply fluoride in the form of a foam, gel or rinse.
Soft drinks are hard on your teeth. By reducing the amount you drink, practising good oral hygiene, and seeking help from your dental professional, you can counteract their effect and enjoy better oral health.
1 NSWDH: NSW Centre for Public Health Nutrition. (2009). Soft Drink Consumption in NSW and Australia. Soft Drinks, Weight Status and Health: A Review, 11.