Kombucha tea: the buzz about this fermented beverage seems to be everywhere these days. From grocery store samples to articles across the web, there’s no shortage of content extolling the benefits of this beverage. Most of the health chatter stems from the benefits kombucha potentially provides to our gut. Marketed as a health drink, kombucha can possibly kill harmful bacteria, contains antioxidants, and is a potential source of probiotics. The list of benefits goes on.
Evidence indicating kombucha benefits has become complicated with so many different companies on the proverbial kombucha bandwagon. With an array of bottled choices and health claims, it’s important to understand that no kombucha drink is created equal. Different flavors, varying ingredients, and the overall creation of kombucha fermented drinks change the impact the drink has on our body and our mouths. Two bottles of kombucha can be as different and diverse in their acidity and ingredients as orange juice is to soft drinks.
What Makes Kombucha So Unique?
The high acidity of kombucha makes it a unique beverage and gives it some perceived health benefits. Not only does the level of acidity and pH vary from bottle to bottle and company to company, so does the sugar content. Acidity and sugar play a huge role in the health of our teeth and smile. Are you being cautious with your kombucha?
The primary ingredients used in traditional kombucha include water, tea leaves, sugar, and “SCOBY.” SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast,” which is key to the fermentation process. The finished product melds flavors of tea with a slight vinegary taste.
Because the taste of vinegar isn’t everyone’s go-to, popular brands adjust the flavor by adding sugar to make it sweeter. They also mix in artificial flavoring and juices that contain added sugar. Some companies keep the natural flavor, making it a healthier option. That’s why it’s important to do your research.
Is Organic Kombucha Healthier?
“Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is healthy for our bodies or our teeth. Kombucha manufacturers pasteurize the beverage to keep it more “shelf-stable.” The process of pasteurizing kills the live bacteria in kombucha and therefore destroys any probiotic benefits! Additionally, when it comes to our oral and overall health, the high levels of acidity and sugar can be very detrimental.
Sugar and Kombucha
Sugar content in kombucha varies quite a bit. Grab two kombucha brands off the shelf and you’ll notice the sugar content can be as low as two grams per serving, as high as 30 grams per serving! For some, the latter exceeds the recommended intake of sugar for an entire day (25g for women, 36g for men). The bacteria in our mouths feed on sugar and then create the plaque that contributes to tooth decay and leads to many oral health issues. These issues range from dental caries (or cavities) to gum disease (gingivitis) and more.
[alt text: The sugar content in kombucha varies quite a bit depending on the brand. These three brands have 27 grams of sugar per serving, 6 grams of sugar per serving, and 8 grams of sugar per serving.]
It’s important to read the ingredient labels of these drinks and pay close attention to the sugar content. Challenge yourself to make more informed decisions about what you’re consuming. With kombucha, it’s not just the sugar that causes problems for our smiles. It’s also the acidity levels in these drinks that can lead to problems such as tooth decay.
Kombucha, Acidity, and Tooth Decay
The pH levels of most kombucha fall in the range of 2.5 to 3.5. For reference, white vinegar is around 2.4. This level of acidity paired with sugar can wreak havoc on our teeth if left alone. The probability of enamel erosion is much greater when we consume acidic beverages. It also leads to a higher probability of tooth decay if left untreated. Additionally, like coffee and tea, kombucha can stain your teeth.
According to Dr. Joe Dill, DDS and VP of Dental Science & Network Strategy for Delta Dental, “As with all good things, moderation is the key. Kombucha is loaded with probiotics that are important for digestion and a healthy digestive tract. It’s also more acidic than water and can wear away the white enamel layer of one’s teeth. This makes them sensitive and more prone to decay. Over time, it can make your teeth appear brown since this exposes the darker dentin under the enamel.”
So, should you stop drinking kombucha? Absolutely not. You can fight the negative effects with a few easy tricks.
- Know your brands. Read your labels and be wary of the ingredients and sugar content.
- Drink it fast. Don’t sip on it over a long period of time. This gives the bacteria in your mouth more time to create problems for your teeth and gums.
- Use a straw. Position the straw behind your teeth to minimize the direct exposure to your teeth.
- Consume with food. Eating healthy, low sugar food, can help remove some of the acid and sugars from your mouth before the bacteria has a chance to work.
- Drink Water too. Drinking water, can wash away much of the acid and sugars in your mouth. Even a quick rinsing with water can be beneficial.
We’re not advocating for everyone to stop drinking Kombucha. We are saying to be diligent in reading labels for ingredients. Practice a few of the tricks that you can use to combat the negative effects that kombucha presents to your mouth. As always, brush your teeth twice per day, and floss at least once a day to keep your teeth and smile happy.
To learn more about healthy food options, lifestyle choices, and recipes for good oral health, click here.