Illustration by Daria Krikunova
Summer is nearly here! The longest part of the year is often the fastest to go by, as the heat and cheery weather often attract its fashion and flavours: gone are the heavy hot chocolate and thick dark sweaters. Instead, you will get breezy fabrics and fruity cool drinks.
At first glance, summer often looks like the healthiest part of the year – at least where food is concerned. However, some of our best-loved refreshers are not so cool on your teeth. After all, teeth decay and gingivitis are often a year-round problem. Many sugary blends are perfect to mask ingredients that could corrode your teeth.
Do you want to make sure your happy hour remains oral-health-friendly? Here are six summer classics, arranged from worst to best.
It doesn’t matter if you have it by itself or well-mixed with rum and lime juice: sodas rank as one of the biggest threats to oral health throughout the year.
Sodas combine three major enemies to oral health (1). The most obvious one is the massive amount of sugar it contains (over 30 grams in a standard glass). Sugar is a great instant meal for oral bacteria, but soda can also impact your teeth’s resistance to it (2). This happens because sodas are extremely acidic: even if we can’t feel it, their pH tends to be pretty close to that of vinegar. The acid can dissolve the teeth’s enamel, which acts as a shield against stains and cavities.
Surprisingly, juice can be as bad for the teeth as sodas, because the juice has a high buffering effect (3). This means that it not easily neutralized. Orange juice, for example, is actually as difficult to neutralize as coke even if the pH of juice is higher. This is because it contains multiple different acids and has a higher buffering capacity than coke. Coke mainly contains phosphoric acid, which is very acidic and therefore quite corrosive in itself. On the other hand, juice contains more beneficial things than sodas, such as vitamins and minerals.
2. Iced coffee or Frappes
Most frappe drinks are made from a combination of sweet milk, coffee, and ice – maybe with some whipped cream on top.
If you suffer from sensitive teeth, there’s a good chance that frappes are already a painful combination for you. If you don’t, you maybe want to keep an eye out for the effect of coffee tannins, which can contribute to long-term, resilient stains (4). Finally, sweet milk can have devastating effects on your breath – so if you want to enjoy the occasional frappe, make sure it’s right before you brush your teeth.
Iced coffees are a great way to jumpstart your schedule on a hot summer morning. However, most of us will gravitate away from the caffeine towards the end of the day. As the day (and the workweek) draws to an end, summer eves often feel like the perfect chance to share a slightly-naughty cooler.
Sangria lends itself to this purpose perfectly: by combining red wine with some extra juice, ice, and a lime twist, it helps us keep a clear head for longer. Its main drawback? Red wine is pretty high in tannins that can stain your teeth, and it’s pretty acidic on its own. Also, if you overdo it on the lime juice, the acidity could dissolve your enamel – which just makes it easier for any stain to stick.
Lemonade may not be a cocktail (although it is a common ingredient for many), but its fresh and vibrant scent is often one of the best heralds of summer. Unfortunately, as we have mentioned before, highly acidic drinks can dissolve the enamel of teeth, making them more sensitive to the damage caused by oral bacteria.
There is a silver lining here, though: if you opt for homemade lemonade and keep the sugar low (or use a non-sugar alternative sweetener) you may be able to skip on some of the damage.
5. Light Beer
Beer rarely gets a mention on healthy drinks lists, partly because there are too many different varieties of it, with very different features. However, when it comes to oral health, beer is a pretty solid choice: they are generally not very acidic and are low in sugar.
Some cheaper commercial beers contain tannins, which help give it body and flavour. These tannins could stain your teeth – but concentrations are usually much lower than in wine or coffee. If you want to play it safe, stick to lighter beers such as pale ale or lager.
6. Watermelon juice
Watermelons often go unnoticed during the rest of the year, but summer is their time to shine: they are very low in calories and have lots of water. Plus, watermelon juice is discretely sweet and very refreshing, despite its relatively safe pH (at about 5.3, it is about 1000 times less acidic than lime juice) (5). Besides, it has no tannins or any strong colouring that could stain your teeth.
As for sugar – you can always add more or less to your coolers and cocktails, but it will provide you with a pretty safe starting point. If you want to play it extra safe, try adding as little extra sugar as possible, plus a few crushed mint leaves (plus a unit of rum, depending on the setting).
Staying hydrated is extra important during the summer. The fun of the season calls for fun cold drinks. Just make sure you protect your teeth by watching the amount of added sugars and choosing your ingredients wisely. Cheers!
1. Tahmassebi, J. F., Duggal, M. S., Malik-Kotru, G., & Curzon, M. E. (2006). Soft drinks and dental health: a review of the current literature. Journal of dentistry, 34(1), 2–11. Available online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0300571204001885?via%3Dihub
2. Reddy, A., Norris, D. F., Momeni, S. S., Waldo, B., & Ruby, J. D. (2016). The pH of beverages in the United States. Journal of the American Dental Association (1939), 147(4), 255–263. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adaj.2015.10.019
3. Larsen MJ, Nyvad B.(1999). Enamel erosion by some soft drinks and orange juices relative to their pH, buffering effect and contents of calcium phosphate. Caries Research. 1999;33(1):81-87. DOI:10.1159/000016499. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9831784/
4. Vogel R. I. (1975). Intrinsic and extrinsic discolouration of the dentition (a literature review). Journal of oral medicine, 30(4), 99–104. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1102637/
5. (2018) Master List of Typical pH values of Fruits and Vegetables. Available online at https://pickyourown.org/ph_of_fruits_and_vegetables_list.htm