The Washington Post recently ran an Op-Ed by diabetes specialists on the health dangers of fruit juice, which stand in marked contrast to the perception that juice is healthy. The authors did a good job of running down many of the risks related to fruit juice in terms of weight gain, insulin surges, and more. But the authors were completely silent on the question of how juice impacts your oral health.
They shouldn’t have been, because fruit juice can be as bad for your oral health as for your overall health.
Isn’t Fruit Juice Natural?
It’s important to remember that “natural” is not synonymous with “good.” There are many natural ingredients–including plants and minerals–that are highly toxic. Never assume that something is safe to use or consume simply because it’s natural.
But even with that understanding, fruit juice isn’t natural. It’s a processed food. The processing has upset the balance of the natural food: pulp, rind, skin, seeds, and other parts of the natural fruit have been removed to concentrate the sugary juice. And in processing fruit, we lose many of the vital nutrients present in the whole fruit. And what we end up with is a lot less healthy for our teeth.
For example, if you eat an orange, you get fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, protein, and calcium. But if you squeeze out the juice, you lose 91% of the fiber, 17% of the vitamin C, 33% of the protein, and nearly all the calcium and vitamin B6. But you keep 78% of the sugar. And the disparity gets worse if you compare one orange (45 Calories, 9 g of sugar) to one cup of orange juice (8 ounces, 110 Calories, 21 g of sugar).
Sugar Is Not Good for Teeth
Fruit juice has a higher concentration of sugar than whole fruit. In the whole fruit, juice is surrounded by fibrous structures. In chewing the whole fruit, some of the sugar is released, but not as much as is in juice.
When oral bacteria get sugar, they consume it to create acid that attacks your tooth enamel. Over time, these acidic attacks demineralize your teeth, causing cavities.
Fruit Juice Is Acidic
Another reason why fruit juice can be bad for your teeth is that it is highly acidic.
Let’s look at orange juice again. While a whole orange can have a pH as low as 3.7, orange juice can have a pH as low as 3.3. Both are much lower than the point at which tooth enamel begins to break down–5.5–and you might think that the 0.4 difference in acidity between the two isn’t important. But remember that pH is a logarithmic scale. Each point of pH is 10 times more acidic, so orange juice is actually 2.5 times more acidic than a whole orange!
And the difference between the two is also affected by the way we consume them. When you drink juice, you are basically bathing the tooth in acid. But when you chew fruit, the acids are released more slowly, and your mouth produces saliva, which further dilutes the acidity. Although your teeth will be exposed to acid from whole fruit longer, the pH won’t drop nearly as low, and the overall enamel damage is likely to be less.
How to Protect Your Teeth from Juice Damage
The good news is that you can still include fruit juice in a healthy diet if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Eat whole fruits daily: Most of your fruit servings should come in the form of whole fruits. This ensures you get the maximum nutrition and minimizes damage to your teeth.
Consider fruit juice a treat: Fruit juice shouldn’t be an accompaniment to every meal, nor should you consider it part of your workout routine. Have fruit juice every once in awhile. Put it in the same category as soda, and you’ll do better if fruit juice “squeezes” out a few servings of soda.
Rinse with water after drinking juice: Acids and sugars from juice can linger in your mouth for a long time after consumption. This can cause damage to your teeth for hours. To protect your teeth from lingering damage, chase your fruit juice with some water.
Teaching you about the benefits of a healthy diet is a vital element of holistic dentistry. Changing what you eat can sometimes have a bigger impact on your oral health than oral hygiene or making regular dental visits.