Dangerous Drinks: The Effects of 3 Popular Beverages on Your Smile

How much sugar is in a 12-ounce can of Coke? How much damage could one mug of tea really do? Sports drinks are healthy, right?

Unfortunately, beverages often fly under the radar when it comes to “making healthy choices.” They seem inconsequential. The truth is, even drinks that are otherwise quite healthy, such as tea, can cause unwanted discoloration.

Before tackling three of the most harmful drinks for a bright smile, it’s important to understand what elements cause staining in the first place.

The discoloration in your teeth that you recognize as the yellowish-brown hue instead of the desired bright, sparkling white comes about as result of a powerful group made up of chromogens, tannins, and acids.

Chromogens are compounds that stick to enamel, and unfortunately, they also contain particularly strong pigments. They are the reason that red wine, for example, is so effective at reversing that at-home whitening kit you tried. Chromogens are known to cause a “lot of trouble when they mix and react with other stain-causing and stain-promoting factors.”

That’s where tannins come in. This compound is found in many things: coffee, tea, and much more. Tannins enhance the ability of chromogens to stain your teeth by allowing the highly pigmented chromogens to bind themselves even more tightly to the enamel.

The final instigator of the issue is perhaps the most familiar: acid. While tannins and chromogens cling to the enamel, leaving a brown film, acids go about their tooth-staining work by eating away at the enamel itself. What results is a rough, brittle patch that has no power to withstand the strong, staining substances that come its way. Acids create fertile ground for chromogens and tannins to do their work.

Together, these three create a forceful trio that can damage even the brightest of smiles. The drinks below contain one or many of these powerful agents, spelling bad news for white teeth.

Sports and Energy Drinks

Rich in acids and artificial pigmentation, sports drinks and energy drinks cause much more damage to your teeth than you may realize. You likely think of them as healthy enough, seeing them for the electrolytes and hydration they provide, the boost they can give you to get through a tough workout. While it’s true they may serve that purpose, unfortunately, it’s your teeth that foot the bill. The bright, manufactured colors, high sugar content, and high acidity make them one of the worst drinks you could consume if you want to protect your teeth.

A study was conducted surrounding this topic by the National Library of Medicine in which, “Enamel and root surfaces of healthy permanent molars and premolars were exposed to individual beverages (4 enamel and 4 root surfaces per beverage) for 25 hours and erosion was measured.” The study found that after exposure to the beverages, both root lesion depths and enamel lesion depths were greatest for Gatorade, even over drinks such as Coke and Red Bull! The researchers concluded that, “Beverages popular in the United States can produce dental erosion.” The research clearly goes to show: consuming beverages such as Gatorade and its kind may boost you through a workout, but it will likely come at the cost of damage to your teeth.


Unsurprisingly, soda makes the list.

If you’re trying to maintain white teeth, drinking soda through a straw or avoiding it altogether would be the best bet. You likely don’t need to be told how great the sugar content in most sodas is, but did you know that just a single 12-ounce can of Coke would put you over the AHA’s recommended daily sugar intake limit?

The 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans stipulate that people should limit their daily sugar intake to just 10 percent of their total calorie

intake.2 For someone who eats 2,000 calories per day… just one can of Coca-Cola leaves you with only 11 grams of sugar to spare.

The American Heart Association suggests that men eat no more than 36 grams and that women eat no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day3. By the AHA’s account, a single can of Coca-Cola puts both men and women over the daily sugar intake limit.

No matter which guidelines you follow, one single can of Coke takes up most, if not all, of your sugar allotment for the day. The implications for dental health are staggering. That’s without even considering the acidity, or the chromogens and tannins, that are found in sodas as well.

Black colas in particular that contain chromogens, evident in their dark colors. This makes them all the more effective at staining. But this doesn’t imply that you’re safe if you stick to drinks like Sprite or Mountain Dew, because sources have shown that, “All sodas, whether black, clear, normal or diet, contain about the same amount of acid.”

How much acid? Well, quite a bit.
The same sources cited a study by the Academy of General Dentistry, which found that, “The erosive potential of Coca-Cola is 10 times that of fruit juices in just the first three minutes of drinking.” The vast quantity of sugar, the corrosive acids, and the artificial colors that cling so tightly to your teeth make soda a drink to be wary of when looking to protect your teeth.


Yes, tea. Most likely, you were expecting coffee to finish off this list of dangerous drinks, and it’s true—coffee does contain the staining agents discussed earlier and is known for leaving a yellow film on your teeth (not to mention giving you coffee breath). But believe it or not, even worse for a sparkling smile than coffee is tea, which nearly half of Americans drink each day. Lisa Fields notes that not only is tea full of acid, it also contains tannins.

Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD, a professor at the New York University College of Dentistry notes that, “Tea causes teeth to stain much worse than coffee. Iced tea or brewed tea — it doesn’t matter.” Like the other drinks discussed, while tea may be enjoyed for other purposes, it can take a steep toll on healthy teeth.

Stuck Yellow?

What should you do if you realize that one of these drinks may be behind the yellow hue to your teeth?

First of all, it’s important to have the correct dental habits in place. You don’t need to cut these drinks out of your diet entirely as long as you understand the proper ways to care for your teeth while still consuming them. For instance, all of the drinks mentioned are extremely acidic. You may have vague memories of a dentist telling you to brush your teeth after eating or drinking. While this is a good instinct, it’s important to wait 30 minutes to brush your teeth after eating or drinking anything acidic! Otherwise, the enamel will actually only be further damaged by the abrasive acid.

If you find that your teeth are still yellow, despite implementing good dental habits, consider professional whitening. In-office whitening is available and is one of the most effective solutions to finally getting rid of that yellow-brown stain.

Call Athens Family Dental today to book your appointment!

Curious about the effects of sparkling water on your teeth? Click here to learn more!

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