Illustration by Paola Saliby

Seltzer: How Bad Is It?

In our “How Bad Is It?” series, we answer your cringing questions about whether something you’ve done, or do everyday, is bad for your oral health (or completely harmless).

By Tend

It’s hard to crack open your third (or fourth, or fifth…) can of the day and not feel a little worried that seltzer drinking could be damaging your teeth. What’s actually in seltzer? And does it matter for your oral health?

To find out just how bad—or not—a sparkling water bent can be, we sat down with Dr. Marc Schlenoff, Tend’s Head of Clinical Development.

Seltzer drinking isn’t something to lose sleep over

Compared to drinking soda and other not-so-great-for-you beverages, drinking seltzer “isn’t really something to worry about,” says Dr. Schlenoff.

Unless your seltzer contains citric acid

When it comes to your teeth, the danger of many canned and bottled drinks, even the sugar-free ones, is mostly centered on a single ingredient: citric acid. Citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits, and an artificial version is commonly used as a preservative and flavor-enhancer in some of America’s favorite bevvies.

Citric acid erodes enamel

By lowering the pH of your mouth, citric acid can erode your enamel. Combine that with another popular ingredient—sugar—as many soft drinks do, and, according to Dr. Schlenoff, you’ve got the “perfect conditions for tooth decay.”

Seltzer is more acidic than water

“Part of the seltzer-making process involves mixing water with something called carbonic acid,” explains Dr. Schlenoff. (That’s the “carbon” in “carbonation.”) “So there’s a little bit of acidity that’s brought into the mix,” which is one reason seltzer tastes good.

But only slightly

The acidity “isn’t dramatic,” says Dr. Schlenoff, though he cautions that seltzer companies don’t share the exact pH levels of their products with the public, so it’s hard to know what the long-term effects of drinking them will be.

To play it safe, swish with water

“All it takes is a swish of water to rebalance the pH of your mouth,” says Dr. Schlenoff. So after you get your seltzer fix, swish with water for a few seconds to bring your mouth’s pH level back to normal. But before you do anything else, check your favorite brand’s ingredient list. And if you see citric acid or sugar, take out a water glass instead.

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