Those who drink large amounts of diet soda for long periods of time often experience tooth erosion, rotting, decay and other types of oral damage – in many cases just as bad or worse as the effects experienced by long-term drug users, according to a new study published in the journal General Dentistry.
“You look at it side-to-side with ‘meth mouth’ or ‘coke mouth,’ it is startling to see the intensity and extent of damage more or less the same,” Dr. Mohammed Boussiouny, a professor of restorative dentistry at the Temple University School of Dentistry, told Health Day News.
The study references a woman in her 30’s who drank about two liters of diet soda every day for 3-5 years and suffered from eroded teeth that resembled those of a 29-year-old meth addict who had been taking drugs for three years and a 51-year-old crack cocaine user who had an 18-year-history drug abuse.
The woman’s teeth were soft, discolored and eroded, and dentists were unable to save any of the affected teeth. The woman had no choice but to have every last tooth removed and replaced with dentures.
“None of the teeth affected by erosion were salvageable,” Boussiouny said.
The woman had been drinking diet soda for years because she was worried that regular soda would cause her to gain weight. She was aware of the risks associated with consuming artificially sweetened beverages, but admitted that she hadn’t seen a dentist in years.
The American Beverage Association responded to the results of the study, defending the consumption of diet soda and telling Health Day News that the woman’s lack of dentist visits was the primary cause of her tooth decay.
“The woman referenced in this article did not receive dental health services for more than 20 years – two-thirds of her life,” the group said in a statement. “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 body of available science does not support that beverages are a unique factor in causing tooth decay or erosion.”
But Dr. Eugene Antenucci, a spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry, said he has seen the effects of diet soda in many addicts, and explained that some of them experienced “very deep brown stains, where it’s actually eroded into the tooth, and the teeth are soft and leathery.”
Most diet soda consumers will never see such effects, but to ensure clean and healthy teeth, Antenucci advises that they wash away the acidity of the substance with water after drinking soda, brushing their teeth at least twice daily and drinking in moderation.
Diet soda – like crack cocaine and meth – is highly acidic, which wears away enamel and causes teeth to become susceptible to cavities. Colas, for example, have erosive potential 10 times that of fruit juice, according to a previous 2007 study published in General Dentistry. This study found that teeth immersed in Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola, Squirt, Surge, 7 Up and Diet 7 Up lost more than five percent of their weight, due to enamel erosion. The most acidic soft drink studied at the time was RC Cola, which had a pH of 2.387. Cherry Coke had a pH level of 2.522 and Coke had a pH level of 2.525. Battery acid, in comparison, has a pH level of 1.0, and pure water has a pH level of 7.0.
Thomas P. Connelly, a New York-based cosmetic dentist, says that diet soda consumers tend to drink more of the substance than those who consume regular sodas, which is often a factor in their tooth erosion. With many Americans convinced that the sugar-free drinks will prevent them from gaining weight, they can quickly become addicted and self-inflict tooth damage, like drug users.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘I’m addicted to diet coke’ from a patient,” he wrote in a Huffington Post blog. “Even though it has sugar, I’d almost rather see people drink regular pop, because I’m convinced that one or two regular pops are less damaging than seven of the diet version (again, people who drink diet soda tend to drink a lot of it). But truthfully, I’d rather see people drink neither.”