Writing in the July/August 2004 issue of General Dentistry the researchers - that exposed healthy dental enamel to a range of popular beverages over a period of 14 days - report that exposing dental enamel to carbonated beverages weakens and permanently destroys enamel. Non-colas and canned iced tea were especially harmful.
"They contain flavour additives, such as malic, tartaric and other organic acids, which are more aggressive at eroding teeth. Root beer, which contains the least amount of flavour additives, was found to be the "safest soft drink to safeguard dental enamel," writes the Academy of General Dentistry in the US.
For the booming global soft drink industry - worth $54 billion in the US alone - these latest findings will be closely followed and could lead to the introduction of alternative ingredients. As it stands, today the thrust away from sugar-loaded soft drinks is boosting the market for low-cal sweeteners - such as tooth-friendly tagatose.
According to Cynthia Sherwood, spokesperson at the Academy of Denistry carbonates combination of sugar and acidity can be lethal to teeth. Though the level of risk varies from person to person. "Repeated exposure of soda through sipping over a long period of time increases the risk of getting a cavity," said Dr. Sherwood.
But J. Anthony von Fraunhofer, the lead author of the study, claims that the drinks can be consumed in moderation. Carbonates consumed "at meal times is less injurious than when consumed alone and continuous sipping is more harmful than the whole drink taken at one time," he commented.
A recent report from Zenith International claims that growth in the global soft drinks market is far greater than that in other beverage categories, and total sales should reach 467 billion litres this year, equivalent to 75 litres per person. Carbonates are the largest soft drinks segment, with a 2002 share of 42 per cent, but bottled water - the fastest growing niche in the industry at 9 per cent - is catching up fast with a 32 per cent share.