How Candy and Soft Drinks Affect Your Teeth

As you may already know, frequently consuming foods and drinks that are high in sugar, such as soft drinks and sweets like candy and desserts can lead to tooth decay. So, which ones are the worst, you ask? Before we get to that, it is important to understand the decay process.

What are the worst foods and drinks for my teeth?

It may come as a surprise that it is not the sugar itself that directly causes cavities. The sugar we consume is metabolized by the bacteria in our mouths, and whereas we as humans metabolize sugar into energy, bacteria metabolize sugar into acid. It is the acid produced by the bacteria that eats away the mineralized structure of the tooth, leading to a cavity.

The amount of time the acid is in contact with the teeth is also a major factor. Every time we eat or drink something with sugar, the bacteria in our mouths produce acid for twenty minutes. Thus, it is not really the quantity of the sugary food or drink that is consumed that is the problem, but rather the frequency with which it is consumed. 

So how bad are soft drinks for my teeth?

If one were to take a sip of a soft drink 10 times a day, that amounts to 200 minutes, or over 3 hours, that the teeth are in contact with the acids produced by bacteria. Therefore, from a dental perspective, it would be better to drink the entire soft drink along with a meal rather than sip on it throughout the day.

So, which soft drink is the worst, you ask? It’s important to consider both the sugar content (found on the Nutrition Facts label), as well as the acidity of the soft drink itself. While all soft drinks are considered “bad” for your teeth, the one with the worst combination of sugar content and acidity is Mountain Dew and it’s comparable off-brand counterparts.

I know soft drinks are bad for my teeth, but what about diet sodas?

While diet sodas are often free from sugar, which is advantageous, they are often highly acidic, which can also be harmful for your teeth. A high degree of acidity can lead to erosion of the enamel, which is the outer layer of the tooth and also happens to be the strongest substance in the human body. This erosion can lead to a weakening of the tooth.

How bad is candy for my teeth?

The same principle of “frequency of consumption” holds true for candy as well. While all candies (unless they are sugar free) have the potential to cause cavities, the worst candies then would be the ones that stay in contact with your teeth for the greatest amount of time.

Examples of these would be dissolvable candies like Jolly Ranchers, Lemon Heads, mints, suckers, etc as well as sticky, gooey candies like caramels, Laffy Taffy, Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids, Gummy Bears, etc because rather than quickly chewing and swallowing them like a piece of chocolate, these types of candies take a lot longer to dissolve and can stay stuck in the grooves of the teeth, which therefore leads to a much greater amount of time that the teeth are exposed to the harmful acids produced by bacteria.

How long should I wait after eating or drinking to brush my teeth?

The answer depends on what you are eating or drinking. For most foods and drinks, brushing right after is the ideal way to prevent the sugars from harming your teeth. However, for foods that are highly acidic, like some of the soft drinks previously discussed, studies have shown that brushing right away can actually exacerbate the harmful erosive process due to the abrasion that the toothbrush bristles can cause on the temporarily weakened enamel surface. A better alternative in these situations would be to rinse the mouth out with water after finishing a soft drink or other acidic food or beverage, and brushing about 30 minutes later.