Is Seltzer Bad for You?
Flavored seltzers may be doing a number on your teeth
Seltzer waters, infused with black cherry, lemon, grapefruit, cranberry and other flavors, are sparkly and refreshing. But what are they doing to your teeth?
SafeBee asked Matthew Messina, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association and a dentist in Cleveland, to spill details and give some advice.
Unflavored vs. flavored seltzer
Seltzer is defined as carbonated water, or ''clear water with bubbles,'' says Messina. The water has been carbonated with the addition of carbon dioxide gas under pressure.
If the seltzer is unflavored, Messina has no worries about your teeth. "If we are just talking about water with bubbles,'' he says, it is not much different from regular water in terms of dental health. Flat (“still”) water has a pH of 7, he says, which is neutral. Unflavored seltzer and sparkling waters (such as Perrier and San Pellegrino) have a pH that is a bit lower — that is, more acidic — than plain water, he says, but not much. The pH of plain carbonated water averages about 5.
Related: 9 Habits That Can Wreck Your Teeth
However, adding flavoring and sugar makes the drinks ''another ballgame," Messina says. Fruit extracts that are high in naturally occurring fruit acids, such as citric acid, can make them more acidic.
Adding sugar doesn't change the pH, Messina says, but it adds to the potential dental problem. "The bacteria in the mouth eat the sugars and burn them to live. The byproduct of the bacteria burning the sugar is acid. And the acid dissolves the tooth enamel." Team that up with extra acid from the flavoring, and you could be begging for cavities, depending how heavy your seltzer habit is.
More acidic than orange juice?
British researchers studied flavored seltzers in the lab and found the pH ranged from about 2.7 to 3.24 — all more acidic than orange juice, which typically has a pH of 3.68. Orange juice is known to erode tooth enamel.
In another study, researchers from the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Dental Hospital tested a variety of flavored sparkling waters on the market in the U.K. They found very similar ranges of pHs as the other researchers, about 2.74 to 3.34.
“The critical pH below which enamel begins to erode significantly is 4.5,” the authors note.
Depending on the flavorings, the pH went up or down. However, pH is not the whole picture, the researchers say. Among other factors that determine how bad the drinks are for your teeth are how quickly they clear from the mouth, how often a person drinks them and how often he brushes his teeth. (Some dentists recommend brushing your teeth before drinking an acidic beverage, not after, when the enamel has softened.)
What about dem bones?
Some people worry about what that carbonation does to the bones. That fear is probably unfounded, according to Mayo Clinic experts. Dietitians Jennifer Nelson, RD, and Katherine Zeratsky, RD, write: "there's no good evidence that carbonated water causes harm to your bones."
The confusion may have cropped up when researchers found a link between carbonated cola drinks and lower bone density. But no such link was found with non-cola carbonated drinks. So at this point it doesn't seem fair to blame the bubbles.
Seltzers in perspective
To drink or not to drink sparkly stuff? The unflavored bubbly waters won't cause cavities or damage teeth, according to Messina. Drink away.
For those who prefer flavored seltzers, he recommends moderation but doesn't ban them for patients. "It's not like people's teeth are rotting away'' with moderate use, he says. His bottom line about flavored seltzers: "A little bit is OK, but don't make a habit of sipping something that's acidic all day."
His other good advice: Take your dental health status into account. Talk to your dentist about the best plan for you, he says. Someone with a mouth full of cavities or fillings might want to stick with unflavored seltzer or good old-fashioned water.
Practice defensive dental health, whatever your beverage choice, he says. That includes brushing twice a day, flossing at least once a day and seeing your dentist regularly.
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