Although sugar is famous as an enemy of dental health, another food ingredient could also be damaging your teeth: phosphoric acid. Found in carbonated cola drinks, phosphoric acid is the second most abundant food additive in the food industry, according to Understanding Food Additives. Due to its high acidity level, phosphoric acid may erode enamel and make your teeth more prone to decay.
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True to its name, phosphoric acid is a type of flavor-enhancing acid used to add a "bite" to beverages; it damages teeth chiefly due to its low pH. According to Dr. Dan Peterson at Family Gentle Dental Care, soda with phosphoric acid has pH levels ranging from 2.47 to 3.35, in contrast to the neutral pH of 7.0 found in pure water and a pH of 6.7 to 7.0 in the human mouth.
When low-pH foods with phosphoric acid make contact with your teeth, your enamel begins to dissolve and soften, paving the path to decay. Softened tooth enamel can promote plaque formation, which then leads to further enamel erosion. If damage from phosphoric acid becomes severe, erosion may spread under your enamel and into the layer of dentin below, causing sensitivity and toothaches. At this point, root canal surgery may become necessary.
You can reduce the impact of phosphoric acid on your teeth by changing the way you consume soda and other foods with this ingredient. Dentist Dan Peterson recommends drinking soda through a straw to minimize contact with your teeth, rinsing your mouth out with water after drinking soda, limiting your soda intake to one serving per day, and drinking phosphoric acid-containing beverages only at mealtime. In addition, drinking soda quickly rather than sipping it slowly can reduce the exposure phosphoric acid has with your teeth.
Although you can take measures to protect your teeth from phosphoric acid in beverages, you may want to avoid such drinks for other reasons. As dentist Mitchel Pohl explains, sodas typically contain additive dye, caffeine and large amounts of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which provides empty calories without any nutrition. Even sugar-free sodas may be mildly addictive if they contain caffeine. In addition, MayoClinic.com notes that sodas may be linked to kidney stones, other forms of kidney disease, high blood pressure, excess weight gain in the midsection and insulin resistance. Choosing beverages without phosphoric acid, such as milk or fruit juice, can help you avoid damage from soda while also obtaining more vitamins and minerals.