May 19, 2023. By Skylar McGaughey.
Popular juice brands advertise their products as excellent sources of nutrition. Especially for children, the great taste and advertising make juice seem delicious and nutritious. However, vitamins and minerals aren’t the only ingredients juices have a lot of. With excess sugar, calories, and acidity, juice is nearly comparable to soda. It begs the question, do we need juice? Dentists say no, and here’s why.
As a third-year dental student at the UNC Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry, the juice myth is a popular health topic. Patients of all ages express their belief that juice is a necessary, healthy addition to their diet. However, juice is actually unnecessary for our diet and harmful to teeth. How? For starters, juice is often packed with unneeded sugar. While a fresh medium-sized orange contains 14 grams of sugar and 77 calories, one 8-ounce bottle of Minute Maid 100% orange juice has 24 grams of sugar and 110 calories. This means our “healthy” orange juice is closer to Coca-Cola (26 grams of sugar and 100 calories in 8 ounces) than its fresh alternative.
Juice has a lot of sugar, but so do other foods and drinks. Why else should we be concerned?
Sugar isn’t the only concern. In fact, acidity is a main concern with juice. Acidic foods and beverages directly cause tooth decay by breaking down the protective outer layer of our teeth, enamel. When acid weakens enamel, germs can spread to deeper, more sensitive layers of our teeth. These germs turn the sugar we eat into more acid, the acid breaks down more tooth structure to make a cavity, more germs can grow, and the cycle continues. Our enamel can be damaged at a pH less than 5.5, meaning any pH less than 5.5 will start to harm our enamel (lower pH means more acidity). Fresh fruits like apples, bananas, and melons have a pH of 4.0-7.13, but juices have an average pH of 2.5-4.0. For comparison, a can of Coca-Cola has a pH of 2.6, a lemon has a pH of 2.0, and the EPA recommendation for tap water is a pH of 6.5-8.5. This makes fruit juice nearly as harmful as sodas or lemons, and its acid-sugar combination only worsens its effects.
Does this mean I can never drink juice?
No! Juice can harm our teeth, but that doesn’t mean we can never drink juice. Like other sweets, juice is often difficult to eliminate from our diet. However, we should be mindful of our juice consumption. Here are five tips I recommend to prevent cavities but still enjoy juice:
- Dilute with Water
Diluting juice with water is a great way to reduce the acidity and sugar content in juice. For example, try four ounces of juice with four ounces of water instead of eight ounces of juice. Your sugar content is halved, and the water reduces the acidity.
- Substitute with Fruit
Even better than diluting juice is replacing it. With various infusers available today, it’s becoming easier to flavor water with fresh fruits and vegetables. Apples, fresh berries, cucumber, and more are great options to try at home.
- Drink Juice with Meals
If you drink juice, drink it with a meal! When we eat, our body produces more saliva. Saliva has special compounds in it that help balance the pH in our mouth and protect teeth. If we drink juice when we eat, our saliva will be there to better protect our teeth from harmful sugars and acid.
- Drink Don’t Sip
Drink juice in one sitting rather than sipping on the juice throughout the day. By sipping on juice, we expose our teeth to sugar and acid multiple times per day rather than just once. Fun fact – this applies to sodas too!
- Limit Juice
This tip is for children! According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, 100 percent fruit juice shouldn’t be introduced until an infant is at least one year of age. A child should have a maximum of four ounces from ages one to three, six ounces from ages four to six, and eight ounces per day for children seven to eighteen.
With these tips in mind, let’s make juice the new “sweet treat” for happy, healthy smiles!
2022-23 NC Schweitzer Fellow
UNC Chapel Hill Adams School of Dentistry Class of 2024