Diet and Sugar Free Sodas: An enemy to your teeth and health?

Everyone knows that throwing back sugary soda and candy can lead to dental cavities, but a new study suggests that sugar-free drinks are out to get your teeth too.

In what sounds like the creepiest experiment ever, researchers from University of Melbourne’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre exposed extracted human molars to 15 beverages, including regular sodas, sports drinks, milk, and three sugar-free sodas. After a good soak, they examined all the teeth, checking for changes in calcium levels, weight, and surface damage.

Surprisingly, there was no significant difference between damage caused by sugary and sugar-free drinks. Only milk caused negligible damage. But experts think they know what’s up: Unlike sugar-sweetened sodas, which promote the growth of bacteria that lead to tooth decay and cavities, sugar-free drinks contain ingredients that cause dental erosion, a process that strips away tooth enamel, ultimately exposing the soft and super sensitive insides of the tooth. The biggest offenders appear to be phosphoric acid (a soda staple regardless of sugar content) and citric/citrate acid. Both ingredients bond with calcium, which ultimately weakens teeth, makes them feel chalky against the tongue and causes tooth sensitivity, among other issues.

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The moral of the story is the one you’ve denied forever: When it comes to your teeth and your general health, water wins every time. Now, if only H2O made for a better mixer. 😬

If you must drink a carbonated beverage, just swish with water afterward instead of brushing right away, which could further aggravate erosion.

Not just bad for your teeth

Susan E. Swithers, Ph.D., a professor of psychological sciences and a behavioral neuroscientist at Purdue says public health officials should tell people to avoid diet soda much like they do with regular, sugar-sweetened soda. Swithers reviewed a set of recent studies aiming to answer the question, “Is diet soda bad for you?” She found that about 30 percent of American adults and 15 percent of American children ingest artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin.

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This can affect your body in a different number of ways. For example:

1. It can harm your heart

According to research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, men who drank two or more servings of Diet Coke had a 23% higher risk of developing heart failure. In the study, 42,400 people were tracked over 12 years, and 3,604 cases of a positive association between sweetened beverage consumption and risk of heart failure were found. Also, 509 people died of the condition.

The study did not differentiate between diet soda and regular soda, but instead showed an equal amount of risk between both.

  1. Your kidneys might suffer

A study done back in 2009 of over 3,000 women found a link between diet soda and kidney problems. ‘While more study is needed, our research suggests that higher sodium and artificially sweetened soda intake are associated with greater rate of decline in kidney function,’ said Dr. Julie Lin, MD of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston and coauthor of the study.

Researchers found that women who drank two or more diet sodas a day had as much as a 30% decrease in kidney function. ‘Thirty percent is considered significant,” said Dr. Lin. At least five studies have been done attempting to make the connection between soda and kidney disease, but only two have been significant.

  1. It can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome

Several studies have linked diet drinks to increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. A metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems like diabetes and stroke, in addition to increased belly fat and high cholesterol.

A 2008 study of about 10,000 adults at the University of Minnesota found that one soda drink a day led to a 34% increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Additionally, another study found a 36% greater risk of metabolic syndrome related to drinking diet soda and a 67% higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared with people who did not drink any diet soda.

  1. Asthma

Drinking soda, including diet soda, increases your risk of developing asthma and COPD symptoms. The more soda a person drinks, the higher the risk. That’s called a “dose-response relationship.”

An Australian study found that 13.3 percent of surveyed participants with asthma and 15.6 percent of those with COPD drank more than two cups of soda each day.

  1. Increased waist circumference

A study done by the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, found that two servings of diet soda, specifically Diet Coke, increased waistlines by over three inches.

Compared with non-users, diet soft drink consumers had a 70% increase in ‘waist circumference’ than did non-users. But, frequent consumers — defined as consuming two or more diet drinks a day — had a 500% waistline increase over non-users, according to researchers. According to Perdue University, diet sweeteners trick the body and disrupt its natural ability to regulate calorie intake.

  1. Depression

Scary as it is, aspartame, or the sweetener in Diet Soft Drinks, is on an EPA list of potentially dangerous chemicals contributing to neurotoxicity, right beneath arsenic. The American Academy of Neurology has discovered that artificially sweetened drinks are connected to a higher risk of depression – at least 30% as much.

Sweetened beverages, coffee, and tea are commonly consumed worldwide and have important physical, and may have significant mental health consequences. But, the good news is, coffee was connected to a lower risk of depression in the study.

Other options

So what might be some better alternatives to diet soda? If you don’t like the non-flavor of water, you could try soft drinks sweetened with Stevia instead of aspartame, or you could opt for coffee or tea instead.

Additionally, you might try sparkling mineral water, but sparkling water also has some risks. The best alternative to soda really is just plain ‘ole 100% water.

How can water help?

Drinking water is always good for your health. Our bodies are made of 60% water, and staying hydrated helps your system distribute healthy nutrients, gets rid of waste, gives your skin a healthy glow and keeps your muscles moving. Sipping water is also one of the best things you can do for your teeth, especially if it’s fluoridated.

  • It Strengthens Your Teeth

Drinking water with fluoride (called “nature’s cavity fighter”) is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making the tooth more resistant to acid attacks from plaque bacteria and sugars in the mouth.

  • It Keeps Your Mouth Clean

Drinking juice, soda or sports drinks may help you wash down your dinner, but they can leave unwanted sugar behind on your teeth. The cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth love to eat sugar and produce acid that wears away enamel, which is the outer shell of your teeth. Many of these drinks also have added acids to make them taste less sweet, but those acids also eat away at your teeth.

Water, however, cleans your mouth with every sip. It washes away leftover food and residue that cavity-causing bacteria are looking for. It also dilutes the acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth. You’ll still need to brush twice a day for two minutes and clean between your teeth, but drinking water through the day will go a long way toward keeping your smile cavity-free.

  • It Fights Dry Mouth

Saliva is your mouth’s first defense against tooth decay. It washes away leftover food, helps you swallow with ease and keeps your teeth healthy by washing them with calcium, phosphate, and fluoride.

When your saliva supply runs small, dry mouth may put you at risk for tooth decay. Drinking water can help cut your risk as you and your dentist work to find the best long-term solution for you.

  • It’s Calorie-Free

Sweetened drinks that are high in sugar and calories create a perfect storm that puts you at risk for cavities and other unhealthy consequences like weight gain. In fact, studies have shown that drinking water can help you lose weight. So the next time you need a drink, go guilt-free with water to take care of your body and your smile.

So remember, it’s ok to have to occasional diet coke, just don’t over do it and you will be alright. Stick to water, it’s better for you. Have you ever had any problems with diet soft drinks? Let us know in the comment section.

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