Chug, don’t sip? The impact of liquid diets on your teeth
Liquid diets are all the rage. We’re bombarded daily with advice on how juicing can cleanse the body, the benefits of protein shakes as meal replacements, and even drinking tea to keep sickness at bay. While liquid diets do have value, they can be destructive to the teeth if you’re not careful.
“The biggest problem with liquid diets is the act of bathing your teeth in a liquid all day—they can be especially harmful if the liquid is acidic or has added or natural sugar,” said Cherri Kading, R.D.H., M.S., director of clinical operations at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. “Tooth decay and erosion of tooth enamel are the biggest concerns associated with liquid diets.”
Like the name suggests, a liquid diet is when the majority of a person’s calorie intake comes from drinking liquids. Some liquid diets are limited to fruit or vegetable juices, or even shakes that replace all of your meals. While many liquid diets are personal choices, some need medical supervision.
Certain liquid diets like juicing do have related health benefits, but Kading emphasized some fruits are better than others for your teeth. “Apples, pineapples and grapes have more sucrose than fruits like berries and pears,” she said. “Fruits are good for us, but we need to be mindful of how much sugar we’re exposing the mouth to.”
According to Kading, sugar and acids are some of the leading culprits behind tooth decay. “Sports drinks, soft drinks, and even some fruit juices are extremely acidic,” she said. “If you drink these chronically they can cause erosion, which is like a “melting away” of the enamel. Sugar content in these drinks is troublesome, too, because sugar feeds the bacteria that live on the teeth and eventually causes decalcification—the beginning process of a cavity.”
The amount of liquid and how often we drink it per day is also key. “We need to ask ourselves how often are we drinking our tea, coffee or soft drinks,” Kading said. “If you’re constantly sipping on something that contains sugar or acid, your mouth never has time to recover from the effects these ingredients may cause. Saliva is what neutralizes the mouth, and it’s important to give the mouth a break from both acid and sugar so the saliva can do its job.”
Worth noting, water is the only liquid acceptable to sip all day. Kading stressed those who partake in liquid diets should always be drinking water along with any other liquids. “If you’re drinking water, this will help dilute, flush and cleanse the mouth,” she said.
If you’ve recently had oral or jaw surgery, liquids may be your only nutrient option—at least for a little while. Kading said health care professionals should always educate their patients on the cavity process, so they understand why proper care of the teeth is essential while on a liquid diet.
“You can’t just send the patient off with a special toothbrush or floss and tell them to use it. You have to tell them why it’s important,” she said. “If the patient doesn’t understand the ‘why’ behind proper oral care during a liquid diet, they are likely not to stick with their oral care regimen. Patients need to know not to sip on acidic drinks, to watch sugar intake and always rinse with water.”
But, don’t think liquid diets are all bad for the mouth. “There can be some benefits to liquid diets,” Kading said. “One is that liquids wash over your teeth and are easily rinsed out with water. The best way to approach a liquid diet is drink your shake or juice, rinse with water and then be done with it. The real harm lies in sipping on drinks and keeping your mouth awash in acids and sugar all day.”