In the sometimes confusing world of what are good and bad for body and mind, it can be difficult to know what habits to adopt and which to break. However, evidence from medical researchers and dentists alike points to the detrimental effects of soft drinks, both regular and diet varieties, on tooth enamel and other bodily functions as well as on the brain. The latest evidence stresses that popular energy drinks are filled with sugar as well as caffeine, and drinking them might not be as ‘energizing’ as you think.

What does your dentist recommend?

Lest you think that abstinence from all sugar will, by itself, keep your teeth healthy, let us tell you that it’s not quite that simple. We also know that an occasional soft drink, sweet dessert or piece of chocolate won’t require immediate dental intervention. But we will reinforce the advice you have probably heard since childhood. Water is good for you — for your body as well as for your ivories — and regular brushing and flossing combined with periodic tooth and gum checkups are at least as vital for proper oral health as saying no to the soft drinks.

The sweetness in soft drinks is just one of the concerns, according to experts. Added sugars in excessive amounts cause a variety of health problems, including obesity and various diseases. But the sweet taste of diet sodas is responsible for a different set of physical reactions that can be just as detrimental; they have no nutritional value and can, in fact, lead to dehydration, increased hunger and possible addiction.

What about cavities?

Cavity Pain

The World Health Organization has been active in international efforts to reduce consumption of added sugars as a way to control dental caries in children. There is evidence that the campaign is working. According to the WHO, it’s the added sugar that is the culprit. Natural sugars — those that are found in fruit and consumed as part of a balanced diet — are much less likely to be problematic.

It is estimated that Americans, on average, obtain 16 percent of their total calories from added sugars, an amount almost universally deemed to be excessive. WHO guidelines call for a reduction to less than 10 percent, with even greater benefits anticipated with a reduction to 5 percent or lower. These ongoing education efforts seem to be having an effect, because the incidence of tooth decay in preschoolers has declined in recent years, although it is not all attributable to a reduction in sugar consumption.

Recommendations to update nutrition labels on foods are under consideration by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as another part of the ongoing effort to increase awareness.

What should you do?

The truth is that whatever is good for your overall health is beneficial for your teeth. I have written previously about the benefits of periodontal exams in conjunction with regular dental checkups. The ties between oral health and physical condition, including diabetes, stroke, heart attack and rheumatoid arthritis, are well known and documented. Excessive consumption of added sugars, whether from soft drinks, candy or ketchup, can contribute to mood swings, exacerbate physical ailments, and affect well-being.

A healthy lifestyle does not come without some effort, just as strong teeth and healthy gums require constant care and attention. Here at Salcetti & Associates, we always recommend that the best care is preventive. So as most experts recommend, we urge you to consider what is proving to be fact: Soft drinks are hard on the teeth. Can we interest you in a glass of sparkling water?