Which Drinks Can Cause Cavities? Coffee, Soda, Juice, and More
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the leading cause of excessive sugar in American diets. Six in ten youths and five in ten adults will drink a sugar-sweetened beverage on a given day. Overtime, consuming sugary drinks like soda, energy drinks and fruit drinks cause tooth decay and cavities.1
Not all drinks cause cavities, and not all drinks marketed as “healthy” are as good for your teeth as you think. Find out how sugary beverages cause oral health issues and which drinks are better and worse for cavity-prevention.
How Sugary Beverages Cause Cavities
As we eat and drink throughout the day, bacteria and food build up on our teeth and form plaque. The bacteria in plaque thrive off the sugars we intake and create acid. This acid attacks the protective covering of our teeth, called enamel, and allows the bacteria to travel deep into the tooth—causing a cavity. A cavity can lead to sensitivity, pain, infections and even tooth loss if not treated.2
Reducing or eliminating the sugar-sweetened beverages you consume and substituting them for healthier, less-sugary options can help in improving your overall dental health.2
Which Beverages Cause Cavities and Which Don’t?
Read through the following beverages to understand how they can affect your oral health—either positively or negatively.3,5
- Soda. Soft drink consumption can cause dental erosion and cavities overtime. Soft drinks contain inherent acids and sugars, both with acidogenic and cariogenic potential.4 While diet soda may not have the same sugar content as other sodas, it still contains acid which is bad for your dental health. If you do drink soda, drink a glass of water afterward to wash away those teeth-harming sugars and acids.5
- Energy drinks. Like soda, energy drinks contain very high levels of sugar and acid—often leading to both cavities and teeth erosion. A single energy drink may contain between 21 and 34 grams of sugar per ounce of beverage.6 Energy drink consumption is associated with about a twofold increase in dental erosion.6
- Sports drinks. While sports drinks are marketed as healthy, they have high sugar content and are unnecessary for athletic performance.5 Most professional athletes with carefully managed diets don’t drink sports drinks and will choose healthier options that won’t weaken their teeth.7
- Smoothies. Smoothies provide your body with healthy nutrients and antioxidants from fruits, but they also contain natural sugars, added sugars from concentrate and citric acid which can negatively impact your oral health. In a study comparing the acidity of smoothies when compared to soft drinks, the fruit smoothies were found to be as erosive on enamel as the soda.8
- Fruit juice. Many fruit juices like orange juice and lemonade have natural sugars and citric acid that wear away at tooth enamel. Enamel erosion can make your teeth susceptible to cavities over time. The best approach to fruit juice is viewing it as an occasional treat that you drink along plenty of water.5,9
- Alcohol. People who drink alcohol excessively may suffer from dehydration and dry mouth. Drinking can reduce saliva flow, and frequent dry mouth may lead to tooth decay, gum disease and an increased risk of cavities. Additionally, heavy alcohol use increases your risk of mouth cancer.5
Positive and Negative Effects of Coffee and Tea
- Coffee. Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the US, and it can have either positive or negative effects on your oral health. If consumed alone without added sugars and creaming agents, coffee can have preventative effects on cavities. If consumed with additives, the anti-caries effect is minimized.10 Additionally, studies show contradictory correlations between coffee consumption and gum health. In some cases, drinking coffee in moderation may benefit periodontal health; in other cases, drinking coffee in excess may lead to detrimental effects on periodontal health.11 Coffee may also dry out your mouth and cause staining.5
- Tea. Drinking green and black teas, without added sugar, can improve your dental health. Both green and black tea have the ability to control the growth of S. mutans bacteria that is commonly associated with dental caries.12 Green tea is particularly beneficial for improving gum health because it interferes with the body’s inflammatory response to periodontal bacteria.13
Best Drink Options for Your Teeth
- Water. It should come as no surprise that water is the best beverage for your teeth. It doesn’t contain sugar or acid to wear at your tooth enamel. Most community water systems contain fluoride, so drinking water with fluoride can help fight off cavities. Water keeps your mouth clean and washes away leftover food residue that bacteria thrive on as they create cavities. It also prevents dry mouth, a risk factor for tooth decay.14
- Milk. Milk is a fantastic option for dental health, especially for children. Milk contains calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals that positively impact oral health and developmental growth.15 Calcium strengthens the enamel of your teeth, bolstering them against tooth decay and cavities.16
- Sparkling water. Plain sparkling water, with no added sugars or citric flavoring, is a good beverage option for your teeth. Because sparkling water is carbonated, it contains a higher acid level than plain water; acid can weaken tooth enamel, putting teeth at risk for cavities down the road. However, the acidity in plain sparkling water is so low that their effects on teeth were about the same as uncarbonated water. That said, added sugar or extra citric flavoring in sparkling water will negatively impact your teeth.17
Take a Step in the Right Direction
In a perfect world, we’d eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from our diets altogether to improve our overall oral health, but that’s not always a practical goal. However, you can take a step in the right direction by reducing the number of unhealthy drinks you consume and replace them with healthier options like water, milk and unsweetened tea.3 Always make sure to brush your teeth properly with fluoride toothpaste and visit your dentist regularly to combat potential cavities and gum disease from forming.
- Get the Facts: Sugar Sweetened Beverages and Consumption. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html. Accessed 5/30/23.
- How Do We Prevent Cavities. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/dental-care-concerns/how-do-we-prevent-cavities. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Sugary Drinks. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/nutrition/sugary-drinks. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Dental Erosion and Severe Tooth Decay Related to Soft Drinks. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2676420/. Accessed 5/30/23.
- 9 Foods that Damage your Teeth. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/nutrition/9-foods-that-damage-your-teeth. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Energy Drink Consumption: Beneficial and Adverse Health Effects. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4682602/. Accessed 10/31/23.
- Athletes and Dental Care. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/athletes-and-dental-care. Accessed 5/30/23.
- The effects of fruit smoothies on enamel erosion. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24072423/. Accessed 10/31/23.
- Dietary Acids and your Teeth. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/all-topics-a-z/dietary-acids-and-your-teeth. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Can Coffee Prevent Caries. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848806/. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Contradictory Effects of Coffee Intake on Periodontal Health. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9582577/. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Inhibitory activity of a green and black tea blend on Streptococcus mutans. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5990952/. Accessed 10/31/23.
- Green Tea: A Boon for Periodontal and General Health. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3459493/. Accessed 5/30/23.
- 4 Reasons Water is the Best Beverage. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/nutrition/water-best-beverage. Accessed 5/30/23.
- Recommended Drinks for Children Age 5 & Younger. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/recommended-drinks-for-young-children-ages-0-5.aspx. Accessed 10/31/23.
- 7 Non-Dairy, Calcium-Rich Foods for your Teeth. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/nutrition/8-non-dairy-calcium-rich-foods-for-your-teeth. Accessed 10/31/23.
- Is Sparkling Water Bad for My Teeth. Mouth Healthy. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/nutrition/the-truth-about-sparkling-water-and-your-teeth. Accessed 5/30/23.