Americans drink a lot of caffeinated beverages. Every day, the majority of us consume at least one drink that contains caffeine. While many people need that kick to get them through the day, there are effects on oral health I’d like to present for consideration.

Coffee is the second most popular caffeinated beverage in our country, following soda. Many people drink at least one cup a day. For the sake of oral health, we will lump it in with another common hot beverage many Americans drink, and that is tea. Both drinks are best consumed black, without added sugar or cream. However, this is not how most people take them. From an oral health perspective, adding sugar, whether in creamer or directly added, can create a much higher risk for cavities. 

It’s important to know if you add any sugar to your drink, you should finish it quickly rather than savor it over a longer period. The action of slowly sipping on beverages with sugar is often more damaging to teeth than larger amounts of sugar in a short duration. If a little sweetness is needed, consider artificial sweeteners as they do not contribute to tooth decay. Not all of them are created equal, though, and it’s better to look at ones that come from natural sources like monk fruit and xylitol. Xylitol has even been shown in studies to help protect against cavities. 

Another concern with coffee and tea is their ability to cause teeth staining. Between the two, tea actually tends to cause more staining even though it is a lighter color. One strategy to help limit the staining is to use a straw. By bypassing the front teeth, we tend to see less staining. Also, drinking plenty of water and rinsing your mouth after your morning cup can help cut down on staining by not allowing the coffee or tea to remain on your teeth longer than necessary. 

In the past few decades, energy drinks have exploded in popularity in the U.S., especially with younger people. While these drinks may provide the caffeine kick of multiple cups of coffee, they also come with incredible amounts of sugar – usually multiple times more than most other drinks, including even the sugar-laden sodas. They also tend to be enjoyed over a longer period than coffee and tea, further increasing their potential for tooth decay. If someone is a frequent consumer of energy drinks, they need to be aware of the same risks as coffee and tea with sugar – but amplified. 

One of the side effects noted with caffeine is increased rates of dry mouth. As I have discussed in previous articles, our saliva is essential to protect against tooth decay. The higher the incidence of dry mouth, the more likely tooth decay may occur.  Drinking water along with our caffeine drink can help counteract this. 

Some of you may even be drinking a caffeinated beverage as you read this. Given caffeine’s popularity, many of us won’t be giving up these drinks any time soon. So, it’s important to be aware of the risks they present to our oral health, and what we can do to limit their effects and keep us out of the dentist’s chair. 

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

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