Patients sometimes ask dentists, “Is juice bad for your teeth?” They think of fruit juice as natural and healthy. In particular, adults eager to help children kick a cavity-causing soda habit often hope fruit juices are among the best drinks for teeth.
We’ve discussed this question many times with our patients at Penn Dental Family Practice (PDFP). The answer? Fruit juices aren’t necessarily the worst drinks for your teeth—but they aren’t automatically drinks that are good for your teeth, either.
Fruit juice can deliver some health benefits. Juices from citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits can be good sources of vitamin C. Pomegranate juice is high in antioxidants. Cranberry juice can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.
But fruit juice isn’t an altogether healthy choice. Juices are sugary drinks.
Juice drinks, cocktails, punches, and juices with added fructose are high in sugar. But so are 100% fruit juices. Indeed, 100% fruit juices can contain just as much sugar as soft drinks. Sugar is naturally occurring, but it is still sugar, with all its calories and health risks.
Beyond threatening your overall health with increased risks of such problems as obesity and heart disease, sugary fruit juice is bad for your teeth and gums—if you don’t follow some basic precautions.
As do soda and energy drinks, fruit juices coat your teeth with sugars. These sugars feed bacteria that erode tooth enamel. Weakened enamel puts you at greater risk of tooth decay and gum diseases.
Also, all fruit juices contain acids—some more than others—that could cause damage to your teeth. The most highly acidic fruit juices are citrus juices like lemon, lime, grapefruit, and orange juice. Tomato juice is also acidic (yes, tomatoes are fruits, though nutritionists and chefs classify them as vegetables). Apple, peach, and pear juices are less acidic.
While juice is sugary and acidic, cutting it out of your diet entirely isn’t essential for good dental health. What is key is giving your natural dental-defense system a chance against it.
If you brush your teeth immediately after your morning glass of orange juice, for example, your brush’s bristles help the OJ’s acid damage your tooth enamel. You are better off waiting a half hour to an hour before brushing. Doing so gives your saliva time to buffer the acid and start remineralizing your enamel.
Rinse your mouth with water just after drinking fruit juice. The water will reduce the amount of sugary, sticky bacteria the juice left behind.
And when you drink juice, drink it—don’t sip it. You’ll cut the length of time it’s in contact with your teeth. You can also drink juice through a straw set toward the back of your mouth to limit your enamel’s exposure. Your back teeth will still get an acidic, sugary bath, but drinking water immediately and brushing up to an hour later will provide some protection.
Fruit juices’ bright colors and sweet taste appeal to children. The “health halo” these beverages enjoy can make well-intentioned adults more likely to let children drink them. Does fruit juice promote tooth decay in young mouths?
Some research shows “no association” between drinking 100% fruit juice and early childhood tooth decay. Note, however, that children in this research drank only small amounts (4 to 6 ounces, or one-half to three-quarters of a cup, a day) of 100% fruit juice—not juice drinks or other “fruity” beverages with added sugars.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends these juice-intake limits:
Some adults use water to dilute the juice they give children. But the AAP notes dilution “does not necessarily decrease the dental health risks.”
To lower these risks, don’t serve juice in a bottle or a covered “sippy cup.” Like adults, children should drink juice quickly and rinse with water afterward.
If you want to drink juices that cause less trouble for your teeth, low-sugar vegetable juices are your best option. Dark green and leafy vegetables like kale, parsley, and spinach contain vitamins that could help protect teeth and fight gum diseases.
But just as you get more health benefits from eating whole fruits than drinking fruit juice, you’ll get more benefits from eating whole vegetables than juicing them.
The best drinks for teeth remain unflavored water—especially if your local tap water is fluoridated—and milk.
The answer to the question, “Is juice bad for your teeth?” is, “Generally, yes.” But drinking juice in moderation, with proper attention to rinsing and brushing later, is a workable way to enjoy these drinks without sacrificing oral health.
As always, your best defense against tooth decay and other problems is regular dental care. PDFP offers expert, comprehensive, and affordable care to help you and your family get and keep a healthy and beautiful smile.
Do you have questions about your children’s teeth beyond how juice will affect them? Download PDFP’s Pediatric Dentistry Fact Sheet. This free resource explains the importance of regular dental visits for children.