Home > Oral Health > Carbonated Drinks and Cigarettes: Weapons of Tooth Destruction

Brush twice a day is a concept programmed into our minds ever since we developed the ability to converse (but not necessarily understand) with our parents and other grown-ups who constantly taught us about the importance of health care. Even though many of us have adopted this habit of brushing our teeth twice daily, we fail to refrain from items that are known to compromise a tooth’s integrity and micro-structure. Amongst the many recognized factors involved in tooth destruction, carbonated drinks and cigarettes are highly prevalent in society.

Soft drinks are consumed by a large population, comprising individuals of all ages in large quantities each day. The increase in cola types and the introduction of various energy drinks hasn’t exactly favoured the mission to strive in order to prevent caries. This wide availability encourages children and even adults to consume soft drinks as a replacement for water (for those who don’t know, water actually helps prevent caries due to its adequate fluoride content). If we do the math, the gap between the consumption of water and carbonated drinks has further spaced out with the latter being dominant over the other i.e. Sodas > H2O.

Cold-drinks consist of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) dissolved in the liquid under high pressure. Carbon Dioxide gives acidity to the drink and along with its high sugar content (around 41 grams in 12 Oz of a soft drink) can be detrimental to the dental tissues (the Enamel in particular). Consider a scenario in which a 16 year old male consumes a 500 ml can of soft drink ‘x’. After finishing the can till the very last drop, the enamel (outer most layer of the tooth) tends to soften. This change in structural integrity is as a result of the acidity and high sugar concentration of the drink. The tooth is now vulnerable and prone to cavities. The drop in pH experienced in the oral cavity along with the rich sugary environment calls for Streptococcus Mutans and various other bacteria to come feast on the occlusal, proximal and incisal surfaces of the child’s teeth. Then the process initiates. Simultaneous demineralization and re-mineralization undergoes with the former at a faster rate relative to the other therefore altering the equilibrium to shift towards the direction favouring it. The more frequent the consumption, greater the chance of developing dental caries.

Taking the example of the 16 year old once again. Suppose the individual is hooked to nicotine or lights up a usual cigarette or two on a regular basis; this can tend to enhance the effect on his teeth as smoking a cigarette with a beverage or right after can further exaggerate his condition. Surely some of the you may be able to relate to this as it is a common habit. Smoking has a tendency to dry the oral cavity due to the presence of numerous chemical substances and, of course, the production of smoke; a drink would really come in handy to relieve this undesirable effect. Now how does cigarette smoke damage the already softened and susceptible tooth surface? Other than the usual halitosis and discolouration of the enamel, cigarettes cause gingival malady i.e. Periodontal Disease, when consumed chronically. With deepening of the gingival crevice as a result of gingival recession, bacteria begin to colonize within the new area created. Also, smoking increases the formation of plaque on tooth surfaces which acts as a breeding ground for these critters and eventually leads to caries. With increased sugar intake the sugary component of the carbonated drink accumulates within the gingival pocket (depth greater than 3 mm) and forms a favourable feeding ground for the micro-organisms. Continuous exposure hence leads to gingival inflammation, loosening of the tooth structures and ultimately loss of the respected tooth.

The boy now flicks the cigarette bud and discards his empty soda can. Usual protocol, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pack of mint chewing gum; for obvious reasons. People might not realize that this can also be harmful for your teeth and can lead to cavitation of the dental surfaces – yes! Same applies for sugar- free gum. The explanation behind this is quite straightforward. Chewing-gum is a sticky substance which can chip off tiny particles from a surface when adhered to it. With reference to the boy, the gum is now being repeatedly masticated between his two dental arches and undergoes constant attachment-detachment on every occlusal table. Since the teeth are soft, micro particles break off from the enamel as they adhere with the strip of gum. In this manner, numerous tiny tooth particles are lost resulting in exposed dentin and hence sensitivity of the tooth. Some people advise that it is important to brush your teeth after every meal. This statement can have its own disadvantages. Brushing teeth which are in a softened state (similar to the boy’s case) can cause damage as well. So brushing your teeth after having a soft drink or any acidic substance for that matter is not exactly the smartest move to make.

Now what can be done to solve all the above mentioned problems? Its simple. Just rinse your mouth thoroughly with water. What this does is that it neutralizes all the acidity which is present in your mouth (H+ + OH- ——> H2O). As the pH rises, the tooth begins to regain its structural hardness and becomes less susceptible to wear and damage caused by factors referred to above. Other essential methods to prevent your teeth from getting harmed is reduce the frequency of sugary beverage intake. Quantity has a role to play as well but the number of times per day a drink is consumed is a more important factor. Brush twice daily and thoroughly, covering all areas of the tooth, especially their lingual aspects. Flossing is recommended to reach those areas where the normal toothbrush is inaccessible; particularly the proximal regions and cervical margins. All these are crucial steps in the quest to prevent dental caries, sensitivity and loss of tooth; but what most individuals avoid is a visit to the family dentist once in a while. At least a once a year visit to the dental clinic is recommended to keep the status of the oral cavity in check. Any serious illnesses can be identified at an early stage and hence can be more effectively treated and therefore eradicated (cigarettes are known to cause oral cancer a disease which can be fatal). It is better to spend a little at a time on a regular check-up rather than to spend a lump sum of cash if a disease is detected which can not be treated with simple chair-side procedures.

At the very onset of a minor headache we pop two tablets of Paracetamol to ease the pain but when we experience minor tooth sensitivity or a temporary tooth ache we neglect it and move on, knowing that it will subside once the stimulus (hot or cold water) is removed; until the condition becomes unbearable and endodontic treatment is required. The tooth is a remarkable structure and can bare wide fluctuations in temperature and pH but when exposed constantly for a large period of time the armour protecting it from such “weapons” weakens hence leading to its destruction and eventual loss. Sometimes even the bravest of soldiers can’t make it alive once the war ceases.

Bilal Khan



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