Question: Hi Dr. B! I’ve been told that drinking with a straw and chewing on straws can be bad for my teeth, but I’ve also been told that drinking acidic and sugary drinks through straws (e.g. coffee and juice) is actually safer for my teeth. Can you clear this up?
Answer: Vicki, It is often said, even by dentists, that drinking through a straw will lessen the exposure of teeth to staining from coffee and tea and the harmful effects of sugar from soda. This is absolutely not true and I disagree with most of my colleagues on this one. Here’s why: Next time you drink from a straw, try to notice if you can feel the drink from the straw touching your teeth or not.
I guarantee you will feel the drink on your teeth. When you drink from a straw, you put the tip of it between your lips and in front of the teeth, so the damaging effects of sugary sodas will still harm your teeth. For those people who hold the straw between their teeth, the back of the teeth are still exposed.
Keep in mind that the tongue is in constant contact with the teeth, so if any soda or coffee touches your tongue, it will also get on your teeth. If you’ve tasted the drink, the teeth have been exposed.
Therefore, the only way to protect your teeth using the straw method would be to place the tip of the straw at the back of the mouth behind the teeth and tongue so the liquid goes straight from cup to back of the throat without touching the teeth. Of course, at this point, it’s more like taking a shot than enjoying a juice or coffee, and defeats the whole purpose of drinking it!
The best thing to do after enjoying a sugary or staining drink (if you must) is to chase it with a glass of water, or even better, brush your teeth! Either one neutralizes the acids and minimizes the staining and damage to the teeth.
There are also other concerns with drinking from straws. Drinking through a straw causes gas. It also causes wrinkles around the mouth; the puckering you do to sip from a straw emulates what smokers do when they take a drag on a cigarette, which gives them unsightly wrinkles around the upper lip.
I urge you to eliminate soda and juice from your diet (drink unsweetened green tea instead!), but if you must, enjoy them with a glass of water afterward.
Hope this helps!
Mark Burhenne DDS