When ordinary water is too flat to enjoy, some of us turn to the sparkling variety. OK, let's be honest: Some of us guzzle it all day.
So it's worrisome to see headlines warning about the possible damage sparkling water could inflict on your teeth.
With no sugar or any other ingredients, why would this clear bubbly beverage pose any issues?
We asked Dr. Gene Romo, a Chicago dentist and consumer adviser for the American Dental Association; and Dr. André Ritter, chair of the department of operative dentistry at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.
What’s the potential problem?
Carbonated water gets its fizz from carbon dioxide. A chemical reaction in your mouth turns the CO2 into carbonic acid, not only giving the drink a tangy, zesty, refreshing bite, but also making it more acidic.
That’s where the potential for dental erosion comes in, because the acid in drinks and foods can wear away your tooth enamel. Sparkling water is far less acidic than orange juice or a soft drink, but it’s more acidic than plain water, Romo said.
That could be an issue if you’re used to frequently reaching for your favorite effervescent water throughout the day.
“If you’re sipping and keeping that acidic drink in your mouth and swishing around every time you sip, and if you do this often, multiple times a day, then that’s probably the most dangerous kind of behavior when it comes to tooth wear,” Ritter noted.
Beware that if you like to add lime or lemon juice to your fizzy water, it makes it even more acidic.
So what’s best to drink from a dental health standpoint?
Plain water, Romo said.
“If you’re going to sip throughout the day, I would say stick with (still) water,” he noted. “Water is the safest way to go.”
To see why, consult a pH scale: the lower the number, the more acidic the substance. Pure water has a pH level of 7. Bottled water — even some of the non-fizzy variety — has a pH level of 5-7; while sodas can be as low as 2, Ritter noted.
Isn’t it better to drink sparkling water than sugary soda?
Absolutely, both dentists said. Especially if you like to drink mineral water, which has a high mineral content and contains things like calcium phosphate, Ritter said. That can actually offset some of the potential damage caused by the low pH.
What are the warning signs of enamel erosion?
They include tooth sensitivity to cold or hot foods. You may also see your teeth become more yellow or darker because as the white, shiny enamel wears away, it will expose dentin — the bulky main structure of the tooth.
You may also see notches — areas of erosion — at the neck of the tooth.
Most people are concerned about cavities and gum disease, so tooth erosion is somewhat of an overlooked condition because it’s a very slow process, but it’s a worrisome problem, Ritter noted.
How much sparkling water is OK to drink?
“Unfortunately, there’s not a number we can put out there as a good answer because it depends on a number of variables,” Ritter said.
“If you’re healthy and if you have normal saliva flow, you’re less vulnerable so your risk is lower… you can possibly drink a little bit more, more often.”
Our body is set up to counterbalance any negative effects, with saliva able to neutralize or buffer some of the consequences of the acid.
But you may need to be more cautious if you have dry mouth, are taking medications or have an oral imbalance, Ritter advised.
Both dentists noted it may be better to drink sparkling water with a meal because you’re stimulating your saliva flow.
For best dental health, avoid constantly bathing your teeth in any acidic drink. With that in mind, refrain from sipping sparkling water every few minutes and swishing it in your mouth. Go with plain water whenever possible and definitely skip the sweet soda.
“If it’s between a soft drink and sparkling water, then sparkling water is definitely a lot better than a sugary soft drink,” Romo said.