Ask Dr. B: Is Seltzer Bad For Your Teeth?

Acid in carbonated drinks can cause cavities

Q:
I like to drink seltzer water – I make it at home from tap water, with a CO2 cartridge. A neighbor told me that she’s asked “a million dentists” and they all agree that seltzer is very bad for your teeth. I believe she is thinking about carbonic acid. It’s not like I have a tank of seltzer hooked to me at all times…really, is it bad to drink seltzer?
– Sam R. from New York, NY
A:
As you imply, carbonated drinks take many forms.

You can get some expensive bubbly waters from deep down in the earth in France for beaucoup bucks, or make some at home for much less.

So what’s the difference between soda and sparkling water?

Carbonated water, also known as sparkling water, fizzy water, seltzer, and water with gas is plain water into which carbon dioxide gas has been dissolved, and is the major and defining ingredient of soft drinks.

This process of dissolving carbon dioxide gas is called carbonation. It results in the formation of an acid (carbonic acid).

Carbonic Acid

Carbonated water, also known as soda water, can be produced at home by “charging” a refillable seltzer bottle (remember “get busy with fizzy”?) by filling it with water and then adding carbon dioxide.

Club soda may be identical to plain carbonated water or it may contain a small amount of table salt, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium citrate, potassium sulfate, or disodium phosphate, depending on the manufacturer.

These additives are included to emulate the slightly salty taste of homemade soda water. The process can also occur naturally to produce carbonated mineral water such as Perrier or Pellegrino.

The acidity of the carbonated beverage is determined by the partial pressure of the carbon dioxide. Partial pressure typical of the one in soda drink bottles produces a medium acididity (pH3.7) with a high concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide. This pH contributes to the sour and tart taste of the soda. Over time the acid dissolves the calcium in your teeth leaving behind a mushy mess called a cavity.

I tested my everyday drinks with pH papers (cheap and readily available). According to my test, a natural mineral water like Pellegrino is a low acid beverage (6.8-7.7). Test your homemade seltzer to make sure it’s the same. Again, it depends on the amount of gas dissolved into the water.

As an aside, for general health, it’s better to drink a beverage that is neutral to slightly alkaline.

Some acidic foods like oranges and lemons become alkaline in our bodies (a good thing) as a result of the digestive process. Bad for the teeth, but good for the body.

Some acidic foods are good for you. So keep water near by and always sip water while eating healthy acidic foods.

Stomach acid is way more acidic than anything we can eat, so once “down the hatch” it’s okay.

However, the best pH for the mouth is probably neutral or slightly higher than neutral pH. This pH in the mouth makes it less hospitable for the bacteria that cause cavities, something I will discuss in detail soon.

Based on pH levels alone, the best bottled waters to drink are San Pellegrino (pH 7.7), Fiji (pH 7.5), Evian (pH 7.2) and Volvic (pH 7.0).

Stay away from Perrier (pH 5.5).

I do not know where your homemade seltzer water falls on my list of recommendations. However, I hope I made it clear that drinking waters can vary in pH, and therefore have differen levels of effects on your teeth, and even health.

So here’s a general guidline to follow, but it’s always best to test with pH papers to know exactly what’s coming in touch with your teeth. Of course, buying waters from far the reaches of the globe does not make enviromental sense. I am just answering the question of water safety as it regards the teeth.

Mark Burhenne DDS

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