There has been a lot posted recently on carbonated water being as bad (or even worse) than carbonated soft drinks for the teeth.
I had not even heard this until I was getting a ride home from a couple of friends from a colonoscopy a few weeks ago. I had mentioned how much I loved seltzer water. (I always make sure to check to see if the seltzer I’m buying has any sodium in it; most brands do not add sodium but some brands do.) Imagine my surprise when I was told how harmful any carbonated water is for the teeth—more harmful than even Coke or Pepsi.
I found this hard to believe. After all, when I was young I was always drinking diet soft drinks. (I ate and drank a lot of crap when I was a kid.) This entire argument made no sense. After all, how could adding carbon dioxide to water make it destructive? I am no expert in science, having nearly flunked chemistry junior year of high school, nor am I a health care professional, but this was a topic I wanted to learn more about. Therefore I decided to do some preliminary research into the subject. I found the following web sites, which I evaluated:
The site of Dr. Mark Sircus lists him as the Director of the International Medical Veritas Association, and is a doctor of oriental and pastoral medicine. Here (viewed 2013 August 12) he states that sparkling water is bad.
I have never heard of “oriental and pastoral medicine,” nor have I heard of the International Medical Veritas Association. According to Quackwatch (viewed 2013 August 12), Dr. Stephen Barrett lists this as a voluntary organization of “considerable distrust.” Barrett gives a list of ten things to look for when evaluating organizations.
The main page of Quackwatch lists Barrett as the operator of the web site as well as a link to who Barrett is (a retired psychiatrist), the mission statement of Quckwatch, how to navigate the web site, who funds Quackwatch, how to become a Quackwatch advisor, etc. Actually, Quackwatch is a very good example of how a good, credible web site is constructed.
Verdict: Quackwatch. There’s too much credible information. (There’s nothing on the site about sparkling or carbonated water, however.)
Sparkling water: Pro 0; Con 0
Quick and Dirty Tips is the web site of the Nutrition Diva, Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS. According to her page (viewed 2013 August 12), carbonated water is not damaging to teeth or to anything else in the human body. She is a licensed, board-certified nutritionist and a professionally-trained chef.
Reinagel has a link to what could be considered her mission statement as well as other links to her advice. This site also has her bio and background, how to ask her a question, links to her Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as how to subscribe to her podcats on iTunes and via RSS. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the American College of Nutrition, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Reinagel concludes, “To sum up, although soda and other carbonated beverages have been associated with negative effects, carbonation is not harmful in and of itself. Drinking carbonated water offers the same benefits as drinking plain water. It keeps you hydrated, which (among other things) helps prevent constipation. Drinking water can reduce your appetite and help you eat less at meals. And depending on the source of the water, it may contain minerals that help strengthen your bones and teeth.”
Verdict: the Nutrition Diva. Again, there’s too much credible information on the site to discount her.
Sparkling water: Pro 1; Con 0
According to Oral Answers (viewed 2013 August 21), sparking water does erode teeth. And who is behind Oral Answers? Tom, who posted this in 2010. Who is Tom? Tom is a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. He never gives his last name, the address of his practice, or his vitae, but his web site is packed with a lot of different information on tooth care and dental-related questions. I have no doubt that Tom is, indeed, a dentist.
He cites an article from the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, the journal of the International Association of Paediatric Dentistry, with a link to the citation at the Wiley Online Library. Wiley is a big vendor of databases that libraries subscribe to for lots of money. This is a credible source. I have never heard of the organization or the journal, but I am sure the journal is a valid, scientific journal of a credible dental organization. (Both are based in Great Britain.) However, Tom’s conclusion differs slightly from the journal’s. He states:
Here is what the researchers concluded, straight from their paper written in the King’s English:
Flavoured sparkling waters should be considered as potentially erosive, and preventive advice on their consumption should recognize them as potentially acidic drinks rather than water with flavouring.
In other words, sparkling water can erode your tooth enamel. It’s probably not something you need to worry about though, unless you drink carbonated water several times per day. Our saliva can repair the enamel through a process called re-mineralization as long as your teeth aren’t being bathed in the acid constantly.
Ah, not quite.
The researchers are talking about flavored sparkling water, not plain sparkling water. There is evidence, as Reinagel also mentions in her article, that flavored sparkling water can damage the enamel on teeth. Tom though, does not make the distinction, and it is an important one.
I do not have access to the full article (either I have to be a member of the organization, have my library subscribe to it, or buy access, and I am not that interested in reading something that would be in technical jargon). The full abstract lists the objective, methodology, results and conclusions.
Flavored sparkling waters are being studied, not plain sparking water. An in vitro study is one that isolates the component that is being studied from its natural surroundings; basically, research done in a laboratory. The methodology (to me) is jargon. However, the results once again mention flavored sparking water as corrosive to teeth. As the authors stated in the objective, “Whilst the wide-scale consumption of bottled waters is unlikely to contribute significantly to erosion, the role of flavoured sparkling water drinks is unclear.” (Emphasis mine.) So unflavored, plain sparkling waters do no damage to teeth. Though Tom does not make the distinction and simply states that sparking water is bad for the teeth, the research he cites is credible, and supports my belief that seltzer water does not harm teeth.
Sparkling water: Pro 2; Con 0
There’s Ask by Yahoo ( viewed 2013 August 21). This forum allows people to post questions to anyone who wants to answer them. One person, perhaps a teenager or a child, asked if sparkling water was bad for the teeth because his father thought that it was. The answers were uninspiring and contained no facts.
Sparkling water: Pro 2; Con: 0
And finally, I went to the American Dental Association and the American Medical Association web sites to see if they had anything on seltzer/sparkling water. Imagine my surprise when a search of the web sites using “seltzer” and “sparking water” brought up no relevant results. If sparkling water/seltzer was so dangerous to teeth (or to health), then why hasn’t the ADA and/or the AMA put out some type of warning, or at least have references to research having been done?
Sparkling water: Pro 2; Con: 0
Winner: sparkling/seltzer water, unflavored.
My advice: go to credible web sites for information. As I have demonstrated basic, preliminary research is not hard to do. Evaluation of information is something that academic librarians teach regularly. It goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills, which seem to be sorely lacking in our society. Why would someone ask a question to a general forum? This is a topic that needs research, not opinion. If one does not know how to evaluate a web site, ask your local librarian for help. If you still have questions or are unsure, ask your primary care physician for help.
Conclusion from Preliminary Research: there is no evidence that plain sparkling water (and therefore plain seltzer water) damages teeth or does us any bodily harm. There is evidence that flavored sparkling waters can damage teeth. Since I drink plain (unflavored) seltzer water, I have decided that it is safe to drink.