Is Your Coffee Habit Affecting Your Teeth?

The rise in coffee consumption in the UK could pose a challenge for the health of our teeth suggests Cygnet Dental Practitioner, Dr Nabiha Farooqi.

At the moment, it seems that we don’t hear much good news about the economy at all. One area though that seems to be ever expanding is the omnipresent coffee shop. Even the smallest town now appears to have least one, with Wickford being no exception. The British  simply can’t get enough of this product, but does this popular beverage pose any threat to our oral health at all?

One of the appeals of coffee, of course, is the quick energy burst that the caffeine provides. This is a naturally occurring substance that is present in a number of plants, including tea leaves. There are also other recognised benefits of caffeine such as its anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties. There are even some sources which claims that drinking coffee might lower the risk of some oral cancers (reference 1 below).

One of the problems with some of these findings though is that to have any significant effect, between 4 and 6 cups of coffee a day need to be drunk. This can lead to other side effects such as increased heart rate and ‘the jitters’. It could also have an effect on your teeth and gums too.

Caffeine and your teeth

Whilst caffeine might reduce the risk of gum disease, it could, potentially, cause damage to your teeth if you drink a lot of it. ‘Caffeine’ addicts may become agitated and jittery if they drink too much of it, and some have argued that this leads to an increase in bruxism (teeth grinding), or perhaps rather, the intensity of it. As we know, this is a habit that can be very harmful and destructive to our teeth and it is best if we moderate our caffeine intake to help to prevent it.

The other most visible effect that coffee has on our teeth of course, is staining. Especially when strong and intense coffee drinks, such as espressos, are drunk, the dark staining properties are soon very visible for all to see. A teeth whitening procedure can be used to reverse this, but for those who prefer to prevent it in the first place, coffee is probably not the beverage for them.

The sugar threat

One of the biggest challenges that our increased coffee consumption poses, however, is that, with it, usually goes a large increase in the amount of sugar that we consume. Long gone are the days of ‘one lump or two’. Coffees that are bought from the main branded stores often contain a lot more sugar than that.

Whilst it is possible to drink coffee that is sugar free, in the form or espressos and Americano for example, many of the more ‘speciality’ coffee contain large quantities of sugar.

A quick look at the amount of sugar contained in coffees from one particular coffee chain makes for a very interesting read. These are examples of some of this type of coffee served (sugar quantities per 16 fl oz serving rounded up or down to one decimal place):

  • Latte – 1.2 tablespoons
  • Mocha – 2.5 tablespoons
  • Cappuccino – 0.7 tablespoons
  • Caramel Macchiato – 2.3 tablespoons
  • Cinnamon Dolce Latte – 2.8 tablespoons
  • Flavoured Lattes – between 2.3 and 2.5 tablespoons

(source – )

Whilst these figures may initially look nothing out of the ordinary, it is important to remember that these are tablespoons and not teaspoons as we traditionally measure sugar with. Roughly speaking, one tablespoon is the equivalent of 3 teaspoons, so, for example, your 16 fl oz caramel macchiato would contain the equivalent of nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar, far higher than even those with a very sweet tooth are likely to put into a home made hot drink!

Erosion and decay

If we take a person who, say, has a cappuccino on their way to work in the morning and a caramel macchiato with their lunch; with those two drinks alone, their sugar intake is around 9 teaspoons of sugar. The NHS currently recommends that anyone over the age of 11 should consume no more than 30g of added sugar per day. That is approximately 8 teaspoons a day. With just those two drinks, and without any other additional sugars that you eat and drink, you are already exceeding that figure.

There are many health issues that are related to high sugar intake, with obesity being just one of them. The effect of sugar on our teeth has long been known and many of us will know this from our parents and grandparents. Times have changed though and whilst kids, in the past, may have been told not to ‘eat too many sweets if you want to keep your teeth’, the reality is that we consume an awful lot of hidden sugars these days, with those in coffee being just one example.

Sugar provides an energy source not only for us, but also for the bacteria that lead to so many dental problems. When these become out of control, they can damage the enamel surface on our teeth, often leading to tooth decay. They can also lead to sore and bleeding gums, a very likely indication of periodontal disease.

If you are a heavy coffee drinker, why not try cutting down a little? The best thing that you can drink, of course, is water. This will not only not harm your teeth, but is beneficial in helping to hydrate you and also flushing away food particles and excess bacteria from your mouth.

If coffee has already stained your teeth, the Cygnet Dental Practice can help you to reverse this with our teeth whitening procedure. Your overall general oral health is very important too, and we always recommend that patients are examined by a dentist at least every six months. If you have not arranged an appointment, we invite you to do so by calling our Wickford dental practice on 01268 733078.

Dr Nabiha Farooqi (GDC 244982)

Reference 1 –