Diet soda corrodes teeth as badly as illicit drugs, study finds

The study compared drug users to a diet soda user. This photo depicts how the mouth of a meth user compared to a soda user. (Courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry)

WASHINGTON – Carbonated soda can have an effect on teeth similar to the effect of illegal drugs, according to a study published in the clinical journal General Dentistry.

“Dental erosion lesions associated with diet soda could demonstrate similar clinical features and characteristics of destruction in the hard dental tissues as those observed in patients who abuse methamphetamine and crack cocaine,” the study says. “The only difference is the degree of dentin lesion discoloration, which is related to the sugar/acid interaction in the medium.”

Crack cocaine, methamphetamine and carbonated soda all have high acid levels that can damage tooth enamel and cause tooth erosion. Compromised enamel can cause teeth to crack, become discolored and develop cavities.

The case study in the March/April 2013 issue of the journal compared mouth damage in three people — a crack cocaine user, a methamphetamine user who sipped two or three cans of soda each day and an excessive diet soda drinker. A news release from the Academy of General Dentistry says each person admitted having poor oral hygiene and not regularly visiting a dentist.

The soda drinker drank 2 liters of diet soda daily for three to five years. A 2-liter bottle of soda equals just over 5 1/2 12-ounce cans or a little more than three 20-ounce bottles.

“Each person experienced severe tooth erosion caused by the high acid levels present in their ‘drug’ of choice — meth, crack, or soda,” says Mohamed A. Bassiouny, lead author of the study, in the news release.

“The citric acid present in both regular and diet soda is known to have a high potential for causing tooth erosion,” Bassiouny says.

HealthDay reports the American Beverage Association released a statement pointing out that the study’s soda drinker didn’t visit a dentist for more than 20 years.

“To single out diet soda consumption as the unique factor in her tooth decay and erosion — and to compare it to that from illicit drug use — is irresponsible,” the association says. “”The body of available science does not support that beverages are a unique factor in causing tooth decay or erosion.”

Dentists recommend heavy soda drinkers cut back consumption and drink more water.

Heavy soda drinkers also can help balance mouth acid levels by rinsing mouths with water or chewing sugar-free gum after drinking soda, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.

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