Why sugary drinks are a rotten choice

Updated 6 Feb 2020.

Sugary drinks dentist inspecting

We recently united with the Australian Dental Association of WA to launch a new LiveLighter® campaign that highlights the impact of sugary drinks on dental health. As well as wreaking havoc on our teeth, sugary drinks also play an alarming role in fuelling cancer-causing toxic fat.

Sugary drinks are the single biggest contributor of added sugar in Australians' diets[1]. They can lead to weight gain, and we know that being above a healthy weight increases the risk of 13 types of cancer. 

Dr Rebecca Williams, paediatric dentist, gives us the rundown on why sugary drinks are a rotten choice.

Why are sugary drinks bad for my teeth?

Line up of sugary drinks

The bacteria in our mouths converts the sugar hanging around into acid that damages teeth - this is called dental decay and is what makes cavities that eventually need to be filled. Sugary drinks are particularly damaging because they provide a big dose of sugar and are consumed between meals and sipped frequently. This means that our saliva doesn't have the chance to do its normal "tooth repair" job between sugary hits.

Many sugary drinks (like soft drinks and fruit drinks) are also acidic which can also wear away teeth. Even sugar-free and diet drinks can be harmful to teeth if they're acidic.

Everyone has fillings - what's the problem?

Australians over 15 years have an average of 12.8 decayed, missing and filled teeth and only 1 in 10 adults has no dental decay in their permanent teeth. It's a big issue!

Dental decay can cause tooth sensitivity, severe pain and infection. This can interfere with the ability to eat, sleep and concentrate at school or work. In severe cases, infection can spread and cause major medical problems. Dental decay can also cause bad breath, be unsightly and expensive to repair. In advanced cases, teeth may fall out or need to be removed. There's also emerging evidence that good oral health is important for heart health!

But never fear - dental decay is preventable! Eating well, making smart drink choices and having good dental hygiene will go a long way to keeping your mouth healthy.

Sugary drinks and kids

An Australian study found that young children drinking 3 or more sugary drinks have 47% more decayed, missing or filled teeth than children who had no sugary drinks. Kids who drink more soft drink are also at higher risk of having to have their baby teeth extracted. Sugary drinks are energy-dense, nutrient-poor and bad for teeth. For most kids, there's no room for them in the daily diet - and yet around 7% of Aussie kids are having them every day. Sugary drinks are the biggest contributor to total sugar in our diets. Do your kids (and yourself!) a favour and don't buy them as part of the regular grocery shop.

How can I reduce the tooth damage from sugary drinks?

  1. AVOID THEM. Choose unsweetened drinks. Tap water is the best choice for teeth as it's sugar-free and the fluoride has a protective effect.
  2. Drink them with a meal, and avoid sipping sugary drinks over a long period of time.
  3. Chew sugar-free gum after drinking a sugary drink.
  4. Brush teeth 30 mins after drinking a sugary drink.
  5. Build good habits early. For children, stick to plain milk and water from an open cup.

As a paediatric dentist, we work hard to make our clinic a happy place that kids enjoy coming to - that's an important part of making dental health a priority for life!

But as much as we love seeing you, we'd rather not be filling baby teeth and extracting rotten teeth. Prevention is better than cure!

- Dr Rebecca Williams, paediatric dentist

This blog was originally published on LiveLighter.com.au 


More information

  • Get the facts about sugary drinks
  • Check out our LiveLighter team's top tips to avoid sugary drinks
  • Cancer Council WA delivers the LiveLIghter program which aims to encourage Australian adults to lead healthier lifestyles - to make changes to what they eat and drink, and to be more active. You can find lots of great tips, resources and information to help you lead a healthier life at livelighter.com.au



[1] Lei L, Rangan A, Flood V and Louie J, "Dietary intake and food sources of added sugar in the Australian population" British Journal of Nutrition, 2016, 115, 868-877

Found in:  News - 2020 | View all news