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Andrew Lum, D18 is Runner Up in ADA/CAAP Health Literacy Essay Contest!

A loud shout-out of congrats to Andrew for his win in the ADA’s Health Literacy Essay Contest for Third-Year Dental Students. Please read this submission below.

Uncapping the Truth Behind Sweetened Beverages

By Andrew Lum, D18

About Sweetened Beverages:

The increasing availability of sweetened drinks has become a global health issue over the past decade, raising several questions about the impact on obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and dental decay. Numerous studies have shown that individuals who regularly consume one or more beverages sweetened with sugar, have a greater incidence of tooth decay.1, 2

In addition to carbonated soft drinks, alternatives such as fruit juice, energy drinks, and even smoothies now contain added sugars which can just as easily damage your teeth—prompting a visit to the dentist.

How do Cavities Form?

Dental decay is one of the most common diseases, affecting the teeth of children and adults from around the world. The process of tooth decay begins with bacteria which live in our mouth and accumulate around our teeth. While these bacteria help our bodies break down the sugars we consume from meals and drinks, they also also produce acidic waste products which can eat away at the outer layer of our teeth over time. This cycle of tooth erosion will continue to occur for as long as the bacteria and sugars are both present in our mouth.

Just like a fire, tooth decay can be controlled if detected in the early stages, but as it grows in size, the decay can easily get out of hand which may require more serious dental treatments:

  • Larger fillings
  • Crowns to replace a greater area of tooth structure
  • Root canals treatment to remove decay which has spread deep within your tooth.
  • Extraction to remove teeth that can no longer be saved.

Why Sweetened Beverages Impact Your Smile:

Sweetened drinks may taste and look good, but when we sip them slowly throughout the day, our teeth are repeatedly exposed to the erosive acid produced by bacteria. Carbonated drinks and fruit juices containing citric acid also contribute to this acidic environment which damage teeth. Since drinks coat your teeth, the effect of this increased “contact time” with sugar and acid is very similar to eating a candy bar that sticks to your teeth.

Identifying Sweetened Beverages:

Many companies are now advertising drinks as “Energy Boosting” “Low calorie” or “All-Natural,” making it difficult for consumers to identify which beverages might increase their risk of tooth decay. While these drinks appear to have certain health benefits, it is important to read the listed ingredients for added sweeteners such as sucrose (table sugar), corn-syrup, or fruit concentrates. Limiting these ingredients from the drinks you choose is especially important as a single cup of juice can sometimes have as much sugar as a can of soda pop!

Actions to Decrease Sweetened Beverages:

Minimizing your risk of tooth decay is a collaborative effort between you and your health care professional. Maintaining good oral hygiene and a healthy diet along with regular check-ups with your dentist are essential for a lasting smile.

Along with regular brushing and flossing between meals, here are some keys to decrease the impact of sweetened beverages on your oral health:

  • Avoid sweetened beverages containing sugar as an ingredient.
  • Shorten the time your teeth are exposed to sweetened beverages.
    • Drink your beverage in a shorter period of time, instead of throughout the day.
    • Rinse your mouth with plain or fluoridated water in-between sips.
  • Drink with a straw to prevent teeth from being covered in the sugary drink.


  1. Bernabé, Eduardo, Miira M. Vehkalahti, Aubrey Sheiham, Arpo Aromaa, and Anna L. Suominen. “Sugar-sweetened Beverages and Dental Caries in Adults: A 4-year Prospective Study.” Journal of Dentistry 42.8 (2014): 952-58.
  2. Okunseri, C., E. Okunseri, C. Gonzalez, A. Visotcky, and A. Szabo. “Erosive Tooth Wear and Consumption of Beverages among Children in the United States.” Caries Research 45.2 (2011): 130-35.