If you aren’t a sparkling water addict, you probably know someone who is. The fizzy, often subtly flavored beverage seems to be one of those habits people get hooked on, with some people drinking more carbonated water than flat water on the average day. But while it may be a healthy, more hydrating alternative to soda due to its zero sugar content, it may be hurting you in other ways: Sparkling water could be damaging your teeth.
Concerns about sparkling water aren’t new, and we’ve discussed them before, but recently the chair of the operative dentistry department at the University of North Carolina reiterated concerns about the fizzy drink, leading to increased discussion around the subject. You certainly can’t believe everything you read on Daily Mail, but in this case, the concerns are worth discussing.
What Exactly is in Sparkling Water?
Sparkling water, also known as club soda, soda water, carbonated water, seltzer water, or fizzy water, is simply water that has had carbon dioxide gas added to it under pressure. The carbon dioxide forms tiny bubbles distributed throughout the water, creating an effervescent version of regular water.
For people who are getting over a soda habit, or even just for those who find the fizzy version more refreshing, it can start to be default to reach for a can or bottle of sparkling water over the flat version. But even the unflavored sparkling water with no additives has something in it that you may want to avoid: Carbonic acid.
The chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water actually forms carbonic acid, a low-pH acid that lies somewhere between apple and orange juice on the acidity scale. This acidity is what gives sparkling water that “crisp” taste that makes it feel so much more refreshing than flat water. While this acid isn’t a problem in moderation, many people are failing to use that moderation when it comes to sparkling water.
The Effect of Acid on Your Enamel
The impacts of acid on your enamel are well-studied. The acids in foods like citrus and drinks like wine, soda, and coffee — and yes, sparkling water — weaken enamel, making your teeth more vulnerable to everything from staining to decay.
This means that if you drink sparkling water and then immediately follow it with a highly pigmented food like blueberries, you could be putting your teeth at higher risk of staining. And even if you’re doing a good job of keeping your teeth clean and performing good oral health routines, weakened enamel will be more vulnerable to cavities no matter how dedicated of a brusher and flosser you are.
Luckily, you don’t have to cut sparkling water (or wine, or coffee) out of your diet completely to keep your teeth safe. In fact, so many foods and drinks are acidic that it would be impossible to eliminate them fully from your diet. Instead, it’s important to practice moderation — one sparkling water a day is more than enough, and if you keep it as a special treat, your teeth will thank you. And you should understand the relative risk of the beverages you consume. The more acidic a beverage is, the more it is likely to damage your teeth. In pH terms, any number 5 or below is bad, but each lower number is ten times worse than the number above it. Sparkling waters are typically pH 5, about the same as coffee and tea. Beer, root beer, and tomato juice are all around pH 4. Wine, energy drinks, and most sodas have a pH of 3 or less, so they’re going to be the most damaging to your teeth.
While brushing directly after drinking something acidic can put your teeth at risk, you can always rinse your mouth out with water or brush gently without toothpaste after you have a fizzy beverage to help keep your enamel safe.
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