Sugary drinks and tooth decay is a hot topic — but there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s name is “juice.” Juice is often seen as a healthy drink because it’s made from fruit. However, giving your kids too much juice actually increases their risk of cavities. Here’s a closer look at the link between juice and tooth decay.
Sugary Drinks and Tooth Decay: Why Juice Is a Poor Choice
To understand how juice causes cavities, you first need to understand a little about the tooth decay process itself. Your mouth is home to millions of oral bacteria. These bacteria eat sugar and release acids, and those acids weaken your tooth enamel, leading to cavities. The more sugar you eat, the more fun those oral bacteria have digesting it, and the more cavities you’ll develop.
Soda is the notorious “sugary drink” that we all know to avoid. But juice contains just as much, if not more, sugar than soda. An 8-ounce glass of cola contains about 22 grams of sugar. A glass of orange juice contains 21 grams of sugar! Oral bacteria don’t care whether the sugar comes from fruit juice or soda; they love it all.
The other reason juice is bad for teeth has to do with its pH. Acidic foods and drinks — those with a low pH — weaken your tooth enamel and increase your risk of cavities. Most juices are acidic, which compounds their cavity-causing effects.
Are Some Juices Better Than Others?
Virtually all fruit juices are acidic and sugary, making them a poor choice for dental health. Green vegetable juices made from spinach and kale can be a better choice since they are lower in sugar. Watch out, though — some commercially prepared green juices are sweetened with apple or carrot juice, which makes them sugary and a poor choice.
Should You Ever Give Your Child Juice?
All things in moderation! You don’t need to ban juice altogether, but don’t offer it on a daily basis. If you do occasionally give your child juice as a treat, offer it with a meal so your child drinks it all at once, rather than letting the sugar bathe their teeth as they sip all day.
What Are Good Alternatives to Juice?
The best alternative to juice is plain water. When your child sips water throughout the day, it helps rinse food particles off their teeth, reducing the risk of cavities. You can also give your child whole milk; it’s a good source of calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients that promote strong, healthy enamel.
Whole, fresh fruits are also a good alternative to fruit juice — especially crunchy fruits like apples and watermelon. The sugar is less concentrated in whole fruit than in fruit juice, and the fiber in fruit also limits contact between the sugar and the tooth enamel.
When thinking of sugary drinks and tooth decay, don’t forget that juice can be just as bad as soda. Save juice for a special treat, and instead give your child snacks and drinks that promote tooth health, like milk and crunchy fruits.