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Question: “I have always had to take antibiotics before my dental cleanings. I read online recently that a lot of people don’t need to do this anymore. Who really needs antibiotics before their dental appointments?”

Answer: Regular and diet soft drinks both have the potential to damage teeth. Pop causes damage to teeth in two different ways.

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First of all, most diet and regular soft drinks are very acidic, containing both phosphoric and citric acids. These acids can erode the enamel, and as the enamel dissolves, the underlying tooth structure (dentin) is exposed.

Dentin is much softer than enamel, and it is very susceptible to sensitivity and cavity formation. Since the enamel is the protective layer of teeth, its erosion can even cause the biting edges to crumble.

Secondly, regular (non-diet) soft drinks tend to have a lot of sugar in them, typically nine to twelve tablespoons. The pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria that lead to cavities survive by eating sugar. As this sugar is digested by the bacteria, more acid is produced.

These acids cause the further dissolution of enamel and exacerbate the problem. Therefore, when pop is consumed, the destruction of tooth structure can be devastating. If several of these beverages are consumed throughout the day, the teeth are continuously bathed in acid.

I have seen children in my practice go from having no cavities at one appointment to having six to ten cavities six months later. This is most often associated with the excessive consumption of soft drinks. It is unfortunate that pop machines are becoming more prevalent in schools and colleges around the country.

An occasional soft drink is not likely to be a problem. Drinking through a straw will redirect the pop to the back of your mouth where it is less likely to contact the teeth. Brushing and flossing or rinsing with water immediately afterward are also good ways to decrease the exposure of enamel to acid.

Moderation is very important when considering what beverages to drink. Keep in mind that consuming sweet drinks like pop at a young age also creates a taste for all things sweet, which can ultimately be very destructive from a dental perspective. Children and adults alike can avoid this damage by drinking more water, milk, or diluted fruit juice.

Dr. Jim Arnold is a practicing dentist in Chesterton and Valparaiso. He is also a clinical mentor with the Hornbrook Group and serves on the Advisory Board for the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics as the Fellowship Chairman. You may send questions to his office at 1830 South 11th Street, Chesterton, IN 46304 or email them to drarnold@SmilesByArnold.com. More information on this or any other dental topics can be found at www.SmilesByArnold.com.

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