Mountain Dew Mouth

How Soda Drinks Causing Tooth Decay

Mountain Dew mouth is a term penned by dentists in reference to a form of tooth decay that is caused by drinking excessive amounts of sugary soda. The term is widely used in poorer areas of the country, especially the Appalachian Mountains.

A young man drinking a big soda
Blend Images / Moxie Productions / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Soda Is a Prime Culprit

Soda has been named one of the prime culprits for both obesity and diabetes. Dentists across these areas are seeing an alarmingly high rate of tooth decay across all age groups from preschoolers with tooth decay to the elderly with higher rates of extracted teeth.

Soda is a processed drink that contains carbonated water, a sweetener, and a natural or artificial flavoring. The sweeteners are usually either sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, sugar substitutes (in the case of diet drinks), or some combination of these. Soft drinks may also contain caffeine, colorings, preservatives, and other ingredients.

Mountain Dew was invented in Tennessee, and the problem has been attributed to the accessibility of soda due to its relatively low cost. This issue has sparked discussions on whether policies should be put in place to restrict soda purchases with food stamps.

While all soda, in essence, can cause advanced tooth decay, Mountain Dew has long been directly associated with advanced tooth decay and pain in children and adults, likely due to the higher sugar content (as compared to most other sodas).

The Similarity to Meth Mouth

Of most concern, is that Mountain Dew mouth has been likened by dental professionals to the level of oral health seen in a dental condition known as meth mouth because the rate in which the decay progresses in users of methamphetamine and the effect on dentition is very similar. Dentists will observe many of the teeth turning to brown, decayed mush. Severe tooth decay can have long-term ramifications for childhood oral and systemic health. 

The disease process of tooth decay itself is caused by a shift in bacteria occurring in the oral environment due to dietary intake of sugary drinks like soda. Refined sugars that are added to soda are a form of simple carbohydrate which is feed to certain strains of bacteria in the mouth.

Plaque's Role in Causing Tooth Decay

The problem with widespread tooth decay is that the oral environment has been overrun with fast metabolizing bugs due to the availability of simple sugars. Bacteria live in what's called plaque. A clear, sticky substance called plaque is always forming on your teeth and gums.

Plaque contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food you eat. As the bacteria feed, they make acids. The acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after you eat. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, causing tooth decay.

Imbalances in the population of bacteria will cause the overproduction of acid which decreases the pH within the oral environment. Decreased pH makes tooth enamel particularly susceptible to leaching of minerals like calcium which is the essential process of tooth decay. Once enough of the tooth enamel has been eaten away by bacteria, the nerve of the tooth is exposed and dental infection may be experienced.

Tooth Decay in Children

A significant public health problem, tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood illness in the United States. It can cause dental complications for life. Once a tooth is restored with a dental restoration, it will need to be monitored and replaced over the course of its lifetime. Of more concern is that it is more common in children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds where families have fewer means to pay for dental treatment.

The most effective way to combat tooth decay is by preventing the disease from occurring. Consumption of refined foods and drinks with high added sugar like soda present a public health dilemma due to high rates of resultant chronic diseases like tooth decay. By enacting good dietary principles through the consumption of a balanced diet and limiting the consumption of refined sugar, it is possible to avoid such dental diseases.

Mountain Dew mouth highlights a society-wide issue that spans from children to the elderly. Health professionals, including dental practitioners and the policymakers, may need to acknowledge the impact of chronic diseases like tooth decay on the wider community.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pabst A, Castillo-Duque JC, Mayer A, Klinghuber M, Werkmeister R. Meth Mouth-A Growing Epidemic in Dentistry?Dent J (Basel). 2017;5(4):29. doi:10.3390/dj5040029

  2. Benjamin RM. Oral health: the silent epidemicPublic Health Rep. 2010;125(2):158–159. doi:10.1177/003335491012500202

Additional Reading

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.