A study from King’s College London, published in the journal Clinical Oral Investigations, bolsters the long-held belief that sugar-sweetened, acidic drinks can damage tooth enamel and contribute to obesity.

Tooth wear is the premature wearing down of the teeth as a result of the softening of dental enamel. Acidic beverages like soft drinks soften tooth enamel, and when those softened teeth are used to bite and chew, they can wear down prematurely.

“Most people do not immediately realize that their enamel is wearing away,” said Dr. Ettienne van Zyl, a Rogers, Arkansas, dentist.

But what becomes noticeable over time is a change in the shape and appearance of the teeth. People also notice that their teeth become very sensitive to hot and cold foods.

“That’s typically what gets people into the dentist for an exam,” van Zyl said.

The scientists behind the study found that individuals who are overweight or obese typically have premature tooth wear. Also, during their research, they found that these individuals tended to consume large quantities of sugary soft drinks.

The study authors reviewed responses from 3,541 American patients who took the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003-2004.

Body Mass Index and tooth wear of survey participants were noted during the study.

Additionally, participants were asked to recount their diets from the previous 48-hour period, with study authors noting how much sugar-sweetened and acidic drinks were consumed during the period.

“Sodas, sports drinks and fruit juices are high in sugar and citric acids. Citric acid eats away at tooth enamel, while sugar feeds the bacteria that attack the teeth,” van Zyl said.

The findings of the study are important, as premature tooth wear is listed as the third most widespread oral health condition after dental caries (cavities) and periodontal disease.

Additional causes of tooth wear for obese patients include acid reflux and bruxism, or the grinding and clenching of teeth.

Van Zyl cautions patients about soft drink consumption.

“You may read this and immediately move to brush your teeth after drinking that soda, but you should wait about 30 minutes to do so because you risk the chance of damaging your enamel,” van Zyl said.

The research team hopes to educate both the public and dentists about how diet can negatively impact oral and total health.

Source: King’s College London. “Soft drinks found to be the crucial link between obesity and tooth wear.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2019.