Is Seltzer Water Bad for Your Teeth? We Asked Dentists to Weigh In
For those who love seltzer, there are few things are as refreshing as that first sip. The lively bubbles and crisp taste are a great way to break up the hum-drum of drinking regular old H2O throughout the day. And although they may seem similar—after all, flat and sparkling are both versions of water—the pockets of carbon dioxide in seltzer make these very different beverages. But, does that mean carbonated water is more comparable to soda than to flat water? And if so, does it also have adverse oral health effects?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes—if you're cracking open too many cans per day, that is. "There seems to be a general consensus that anything that sparkles or is bubbly is bad for our teeth," says Sheila Samaddar, DDS, president of District of Columbia Academy of General Dentistry and national spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. "These drinks can take a toll, but a little understanding of why they can be problematic could help us all choose and act a little differently—and help us practice moderation." According to Dr. Samaddar, there are a few different factors that play a role in determining whether or not seltzer water is bad for your teeth, including the kind you drink and how often you imbibe.
Consume Seltzer in Moderation
The main thing that sets seltzer apart from regular water is the fact that it's slightly acidic, which could theoretically cause enamel damage if consumed in excess over a long period of time, says Dr. Angelique Freking MS, DDS, FAGD, dental director of Park Slope Dentistry Seventh Avenue. "However, I think the real risk is slightly overstated, and is more complicated than just pH levels," she says.
While carbonated water is riskier to drink than plain H2O, Dr. Freking says you should be fine if you're consuming it in moderation. But what is considered moderate? "If you drink three to four cans of seltzer a day for over a month, I could consider that in excess of moderation for almost everyone," she says. "I think most people with good oral health and habits could tolerate a can of seltzer a day without seeing significant issues over an extended period of time." If you're already at high risk for dental decay, Dr. Freking says she'd lower that number—but adds there isn't one set amount that's right for everyone.
Don't Sip on It for Too Long
In addition to how much seltzer water you drink, how long you take to finish off a can also has an impact on your teeth. According to Dr. Samaddar, this has to do with our mouth's ability to self-heal. "Our saliva is capable of rebalancing the pH levels in our mouths, which can slow and prevent the process of enamel erosion," she says. However, drinking the carbonated beverage over an extended period of time makes it harder for saliva to counteract the acid.
When you do finish your can, "drink plain water after your carbonated water to help flush away any lingering remnants," Dr. Samaddar says.
Read the Label for Added Ingredients
Most carbonated water does not contain added sugar, which is arguably its biggest advantage over soda, Dr. Samaddar says. Still, it's important to scan the label before you sip: "If it has added acids or sugar or certain other flavorings that change the pH, the carbonated water could be equally harmful to tooth health," she says.
Be on the lookout for carbonated water that contains added sugar. "Flavored seltzer water, which is often mixed with other ingredients that contain sugar, can be harmful to our teeth because of the added sugar," says Dr. Matt Asaro of Asaro Dental Aesthetics. Added sugar makes your teeth, prone to breakage, sensitivity, and decay, a process call tooth erosion, adds Dr. Samaddar.
Bacteria living in your mouth thrive on the food we eat, but the organisms especially love sugar as a food source; they consume it and then produce acid as a byproduct of their metabolism. For this reason, Dr. Freking says consuming anything with added sugar is going to result in more acidity in your mouth, and in turn, more enamel damage. "Carbonated water without any added sugar is going to be the best choice you can make if you're concerned about your oral health, assuming you would like something a little more fun than a glass of still water," she says.
In the same vein, drinking seltzer water with added fruit juice can also negatively impact your oral health, since the juices contain sugar. "Anything with added sugar, even if it comes from fruit juice, is going to be a source of fuel for bacteria, and thus, [cause] more damage to your teeth," Dr. Freking says.
Citrus or Citric Acid
Dr. Samaddar says to also be aware of additives such as citric acid and carbonic acid in seltzer water—a notion Dr. Asaro confirms. "Anything which contributes to an acidic environment in our mouth leads to dental disease," he says. While all seltzers contain some level of acid, Dr. Samaddar says some brands add citric acid to give seltzers additional bubbles and flavor. Check the label to see if any additional acid has been added, as well as the type.