What Pumpkin Spice Lattes Really Do to Your Teeth
Over the last few years, Starbucks’ seasonal pumpkin spice lattes have quickly become one of the most popular autumn treats. It’s already the subject of jokes and memes, but this still hasn’t diminished its astounding popularity. It turns out that cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice actually taste really good in coffee. Who would have thought?
But the problem is, people treat pumpkin spice lattes like regular coffee, not like the sugary treat that it is. Caffeine content aside, a typical pumpkin spice latte is no better for you than a milkshake. Plus, it’s really bad for your teeth. They’re fine once in a while, but if you’re drinking pumpkin spice lattes almost every day, you could be putting your teeth at risk for caries and decay.
Why Pumpkin Spice Lattes Are Bad for Your Teeth
Pumpkin spice lattes combine two things that, on their own, aren’t too great for your dental health: coffee and sugar. There’s a lot of sugar in a typical Starbucks drink, and the pumpkin spice lattes are no exception. A 16 ounce “Grande” pumpkin spice latte with 2% milk and whipped cream has 50 grams of sugar. That’s a lot. The American Heart Association recommends a daily sugar intake of no more than 37.5 grams for men, and 25 grams for women. Whether you’re male or female, one latte can put you above your recommended daily intake. Even if you pass on the whipped cream, it’s still 48 grams of sugar.
The coffee itself is highly acidic, which can stain your teeth and facilitate tooth erosion. However, the real problem with daily pumpkin spice latte consumption is the sheer quantity of sugar that these drinks contain. You might as well be eating cupcakes.
Sugar and Your Teeth
It’s no secret that there’s a strong relationship between sugar intake and oral health. Your diet can affect the quantity, pH, and composition of your saliva, as well as the abundance and activity of bacteria that live inside your mouth. Sugars, along with other fermentable sugars like starch, is broken down by an enzyme called amylase, contained in the saliva in your mouth. After the amylase breaks them down, they provide a substrate on which oral bacteria can grow.
Streptococci and lactobacilli are the two groups of bacteria that are implicated in dental caries (cavities). The accumulate on your teeth in biofilms, referred to as “plaque.” When these bacteria break down sugars from the food that you eat, they produce acids as a byproduct of their metabolism. When the pH of plaque drops below a pH of 5.5, the calcium and phosphate minerals in your enamel begins to break down. This demineralization process is what causes dental caries.
American diets are notoriously high in sugar, and the average person exceeds their recommended daily sugar intake almost every day. This is part of why dental caries are one of the most common childhood diseases in the United States, and 51% of children ages 5-9 have had at least one cavity that needed a dental filling. Added sugars are in a wide variety of common foods, and partly due to sugar industry lobbying, the many non-dental adverse health effects of sugar were ignored in government dietary guidelines for decades.
Reducing Your Sugar Intake
Pumpkin spice lattes and other super-sugary beverages put you at a higher risk for dental caries. You can preserve your dental health — not to mention saving money on fillings — by reducing your overall sugar intake. Pumpkin spice lattes aren’t something you should drink on a daily basis. Neither is soda, and even fruit juice contains a very high concentration of sugar. Cutting back your pumpkin spice latte consumption can go a long way toward preventing cavities.