Dentist Karl Bishop says the soft drink company’s annual Christmas soft drink truck tour encourages British children to consume sugary soft drinks that contribute to tooth decay. The Coca-Cola Christmas truck visits multiple cities in the U.K. each year and provides free cans of Coca-Cola to children and adults.
Bishop is the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board’s clinical director for dentistry.
His concern about the free soft drinks may be valid: Nearly 3,800 children in South West Wales have had teeth removed or other significant dental procedures that required general anesthesia in 2016-17.
Bishop is not the first dental professional to balk at a visit from the Christmas truck. In Liverpool and other cities throughout the U.K., dentists and other health professionals have called for a ban on the truck not only because of the impact of soft drinks on oral health, but also its effect on waistlines.
Researchers often pinpoint sugary soft drinks as a contributor to childhood obesity.
The Impact of Soft Drinks on Oral Health
“Soft drinks contain high levels of sugar, and sugar feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease,” said Dr. Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S., L.V.I.F.
Caracioni is a Topeka, Kansas, dentist.
The byproduct of the combination of sugar and bacteria is acid that damages tooth enamel and causes decay.
But high sugar levels aren’t the only things that concern Caracioni. Soft drinks are also high in phosphoric acid, which over time weakens the tooth enamel by leaching out calcium.
“Weakened tooth enamel is more susceptible to decay-causing bacteria. Weakened teeth can also develop cracks and fractures more readily than those with strong enamel,” Caracioni said.
Soft drinks also alter the pH levels of the mouth, making it a more hospitable environment for disease-causing bacteria to grow.
Soft drink consumption in large quantities or for long periods of time also weakens the jaw bone, which could cause the teeth to become loose and fall out.
In addition to oral health concerns, drinking soft drinks can affect the appearance of the teeth.
“Caramel-colored soft drinks and other dark beverages like wine, tea and coffee can stain the teeth and affect the aesthetics of the smile,” Caracioni said.
People should also consume fruit juices and sports drinks with caution, she said.
“Fruit juices, sports drinks and even flavored water can contain high levels of citric acid, which can contribute to weakened enamel,” Caracioni said.
Steps You Can Take
Avoiding or at least limiting consumption of soft drinks keeps teeth healthy, but if individuals are unwilling to give up their soft drink habit, there are some steps to take to reduce the potential for damage.
“Rinsing the mouth as soon as possible after drinking soft drinks can help reduce their impact on the teeth,” Caracioni said.
Caracioni also suggests that people keep their consumption of soft drinks to fewer than three cans per week.
“Too much of anything is a bad thing,” Caracioni said.
Caracioni and other dental professionals recommend that people who choose to drink soft drinks finish their drink in one sitting instead of sipping on it throughout the day. This is because each sip of the soft drink washes the teeth with sugar and phosphoric acid.
Water is safe for the teeth, but Caracioni suggests opting for plain tap water over bottled water.
“Bottled water in moderation is fine, but only drinking bottled or filtered water means you’re not getting the fluoride needed to strengthen the teeth,” Caracioni said.
The Mirror. A U.K. dentist has asked for a ban preventing the Coca-Cola’s Christmas truck from visiting municipalities in Wales and England. The Mirror. 7 November 2017.