Wait. Hold on. Could the rumors be true? Is sparkling water bad for you in some way? Given its recent explosion in popularity, the backlash against sparkling water was inevitable. “It ruins your teeth. It wrecks your digestion. It’s bad for your bones,” according to the Internet and people airing their unsolicited opinions. But, OK, calm down. You don’t actually need to give up sparkling water. Here, a few experts explain why.
Sparkling water and your teeth
“Sparkling water, per se, should not be harmful to teeth,” Augusto Robles, D.D.S., M.S., assistant professor and director of operative dentistry curriculum at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry.
The fear around sparkling water’s effect on teeth comes down to the beverage’s acidity. In 2016, the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) published a study analyzing the pH levels of 379 drinks. Spring water had a pH of 7.4, making it neutral, while various brands of sparkling water had pH values around 5, putting them firmly in acidic territory.
Although the study only tested a couple of sparkling water brands, it underscored what dental experts already knew: Sparkling water is generally more acidic than regular water, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
However, the ADA notes, no research to date has found solid evidence that drinking normal amounts of sparkling water is more harmful to enamel (the hard, outer surface of your teeth) than drinking regular water. (We mean sparkling water without sugar. Added sugar can obviously harm your enamel and cause tooth decay that leads to cavities.)
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should guzzle sparkling water all day, every day. “The pH could be damaging if it is low enough and the consumption frequency is high,” Dr. Robles says. In practice, that could look something like forgoing regular water to exclusively drink a ton of citrus-flavored sparkling water. Yes, the flavor you choose could make a difference.
On top of the natural acidity of sparkling water, citrus-flavored versions contain citric acid, which lowers their pH and increases their potential to affect your teeth, Dr. Robles explains. (Drinks with other flavors can contain other acids, Dr. Robles says, but the JADA study points to citric acid specifically as a big cause of enamel erosion.)
If you’re going to drink citrus-flavored sparkling water, the ADA recommends that you have a serving all at once rather than sipping on it throughout the day so you don’t constantly expose your teeth to acidity.
Beyond that, the ADA recommends drinking fluoridated tap water (if it’s available where you live) in addition to sparkling water. Fluoride is often added to public water systems because it can help strengthen enamel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some helpful tips for how to check if this is true for your local public water system. Some bottled waters also contain fluoride, according to the CDC.
Overall, you can enjoy normal amounts of sparkling water without worrying about your teeth. The one major exception is people who have dry mouth, which happens due to impaired saliva production that can be caused by medical issues like diabetes, lifestyle factors like snoring, and a number of medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids. A lack of saliva plus drinking a lot of sparkling water (especially citrus flavors) may make the mouth an even more acidic environment, Dr. Robles explains. If you have dry mouth, love sparkling water, and worry it’s exacerbating your symptoms, check in with your dentist for guidance.
Sparkling water and your digestion
If you have a healthy digestive system, you generally shouldn’t be nervous about how sparkling water will affect it unless you’re strongly against belching.
You’ll probably let out some burps after drinking sparkling water, which is to be expected given that you’re swallowing carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles. But the majority of that CO2 gets released when you open the container—hence that delightful hiss-crack—so a smaller portion actually reaches the stomach, Saleem Chowdhry, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic. While you’ll probably burp up most of this excess CO2, a little bit may continue down the GI tract, causing modest bloating, flatulence, and other gas symptoms, Dr. Chowdhry says.
People with certain GI conditions may want to go easy on the sparkling in part because of these gassy effects. That includes those with acid reflux that is frequent or severe enough to qualify as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux means that the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus is weak enough to allow stomach contents to reverse course, causing symptoms like heartburn, according to the Mayo Clinic. Gastric distension caused by sparkling water’s CO2 bubbles can decrease the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter, which can then promote acid reflux, Dr. Chowdhry says. This is especially likely if you consume sparkling water in large quantities and/or after eating a meal (when acid reflux is more likely anyway). Plus, people with GERD are generally advised to avoid acidic foods to manage their symptoms.
Dr. Chowdhry also tells his patients with conditions that already cause excessive bloating, gas, and inflammation (like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease) to cut back on acidic and carbonated beverages to avoid additional discomfort.
Interestingly, a handful of admittedly older and small studies suggest that sparkling water could actually help some people with their digestion. “Theoretically, it can reduce the pH in the stomach, which can help in the initial digestive process” by promoting muscle contractions that move food, Dr. Chowdhry says. However, Dr. Chowdhry notes, there is not a strong evidence base for this. Much more research is necessary before we can go around recommending sparkling water for better digestion.
Sparkling water and your bones
Worries about this sparkly stuff directly affecting your bones don’t hold (carbonated) water.
The concern that overconsumption of sparkling water could cause bone health issues—like increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis (weak bones)—seems to stem from research showing an association between cola consumption and low bone density in women, Abby Abelson, M.D., chair of the department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases and director of education at the Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease at the Cleveland Clinic.
Some observational studies do suggest a link between cola—but not other carbonated beverages—and lower bone mass density as well as an increased risk of fractures, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was first theorized that the high amount of phosphorus added to cola was to blame because it lowered calcium levels. However, the NIH now says that the association between cola and low bone density is most likely because people are replacing bone-building milk with cola.
Dairy milk contains high levels of calcium and vitamin D, which promote bone growth and strength and help prevent osteoporosis in older adults, according to the NIH. Dairy milk and fortified plant-based milk are often primary sources of calcium and vitamin D in many people’s diets, and vitamin D especially can be hard to find in foods that aren’t dairy-based or fortified, according to the NIH.
So, yes, swapping out dairy or fortified plant milk for sparkling water without making sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D elsewhere could potentially heighten your risk of deficiencies and related bone health issues, Dr. Abelson explains. But this is a risk if you consume less bone-building nutrients because of any beverage, not just sparkling water. “As long as people are getting the recommended amounts [of calcium and vitamin D], they should be OK,” Dr. Abelson says. Here are the United States Department of Agriculture’s recommendations for how much calcium and vitamin D you should be getting based on your age. Also, some sparkling mineral waters actually contain some calcium, so you could make an effort to seek those out if you like.
The bottom line: Unless you’ve got specific dental, digestive, or bone concerns and are drinking an absurd amount of sparkling water, there’s no need to rob yourself of this particular kind of perfection. Hopefully, it tastes even better with this knowledge in mind.