Pop versus coffee

Originally Published: October 5, 2007 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 28, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I was having a conversation with my roommates about pop and coffee and we were wondering which is worse for your teeth, the pop or the coffee? And what do they do to your teeth when you drink them?

Dear Reader,

While dentists may not necessarily endorse drinking large amounts of either coffee or pop, there is some evidence that coffee is not as bad for your teeth, at least in terms of structural damage. Both coffee and pop may cause teeth staining and discoloration over time, and both may make you jittery if you drink the caffeinated versions.

Although known for its ability to wake you up in the morning, coffee, including the caffeinated and decaffeinated versions, also contains substances that may prevent tooth decay. These components (chlorogenic acid, nicotinic acid, and trigonelline) have been shown to prevent bacteria from attaching to the tooth surface, and this may be the first step to preventing tooth decay. However, just drinking coffee isn't enough to prevent tooth decay. The amount of sugar a person adds to coffee (or consumes in pop) plays an important role. A diet high in sugar may lead to dental cavities; regular visits to a dentist, brushing, and flossing at home will help you avoid dental problems. If you are a Columbia student, check out Dental care in NYC for more information about dental options.

Pop, also known as soda, soda-pop, tonic and soft drinks, doesn't have the same components that protect from bacteria and there is some evidence that exposing teeth to pop over time may contribute to tooth erosion. Tooth erosion happens when the protective enamel wears away, and can be caused by many factors other than drink consumption including:          

  • Bulimia.
  • Low levels of saliva.
  • Acid reflux disease.
  • Other gastrointestinal problems.

Pop may cause erosion because it is an acidic drink and, unlike coffee, studies suggest that the acids in pop are not protective. However, you would have to drink large amounts of pop to see these effects.

Coffee, and dark-colored pop such as cola, may both contribute to tooth staining. These drinks, along with tea and red wine, contain dark compounds that can build up over time and cause discoloration (because tooth enamel absorbs these compounds). To prevent this build up you can avoid drinking dark beverages and be sure to brush regularly. Teeth whiting treatments can also have a dramatic effect and may help remove stains.

Coffee and pop act differently on your teeth and it's a good idea to drink them in moderation since over time they may have negative effects. Brushing regularly will also help to protect your teeth from some of the damage and discoloration. Finally, regular visits to your dentist will help keep your mouth in tip top shape.

Happy sipping,

Alice