It’s no secret that bathing your teeth in sugary drinks can lead to cavities. But in this season of piña coladas and mojitos, we wanted to know just how bad are our favorite summer refreshers? We asked Priyanka Patel, DMD, a general dentist in Chicago, to weigh in.
This classic summer go-to for picnics, barbeques and kiddie entrepreneurs is problematic more for its high acidity than its sugar (though that’s trouble too). Lemons are the most acidic of all citrus fruits. “Acid can be more damaging than sugar, because it breaks down tooth enamel, making it easier for bacteria to come in,” says Dr. Patel. What’s more, lemonade made with preservatives tends to be high in sugar—up to 40 grams (that’s 10 teaspoons!) per serving—but if you make your own fresh batch, you can opt for a lighter touch. Dr. Patel also suggests flavoring water with lemon rind, sliced cucumber, or berries as a tooth-friendly alternative.
All wines, especially red, have tannins, which give flavor but also stain your teeth. Don’t be too quick to ditch your red sangria this summer for white, though. Their sweet taste makes it less noticeable, but white wines have more acid than red, which can be a problem if you have pre-existing enamel issues. Dr. Patel also cautions against overdoing sparkling wines like Prosecco. The combo of carbonation and acid can wear away enamel.
The darker the coffee or tea, the more teeth-staining tannings. Both also contain acid that can erode enamel, making it easier for any yellowing to set in. Green tea is a milder choice if you can’t bear to give up your morning caffeine. Save any sugar-laden syrups or frappuccinos for the occasional indulgence. And when drinking iced coffee and tea, sip through a straw, suggests Dr. Patel. “It acts as a good buffer, so you’re less likely to swish the staining liquid around your mouth and to bathe the tooth surfaces.”
If you’re exercising vigorously in the heat, think twice before reaching for a sports drink. While they can replenish electrolytes lost through sweating, most sports drinks contain plenty of sugar, around 20 grams or 5 teaspoons, and citric acid for flavor. Besides drinking them in moderation, consider coconut water for hydration or eating a banana to refuel.
Whether Summer Friday happy hours or poolside daiquiris are your jam, be aware that alcohol inhibits saliva production, drying out your mouth and making you prone to halitosis (a fancy name for bad breath). “No matter if it’s rum, vodka or tequila, follow each drink with a glass of water to help keep the pH balance in your mouth relatively neutral,” says Dr. Patel. “You’ll see less wear on your enamel and water will also help counter alcohol’s effects on your body. Swish it around, spit it out or swallow.” She recommends watermelon-based drinks for their low pH, high water content, and low sugar. Sip margaritas and mojitos in moderation due to the acidic limes and high-sugar syrup and club soda. While a piña colada is sweet too, its coconut milk helps bring the pH levels down. Light beer makes a great alternative, for its low acidity and high water content.
If summer’s hot temps have you reaching for more sugary drinks than usual, be sure to brush regularly and perhaps even add a midday session. Just wait 30 minutes after consumption before grabbing your quip, since acidic drinks naturally degrade the surface of your enamel, making it more vulnerable than usual—your enamel needs time to rest and recharge too!