The High Cost of Drinking

by Haifa Haroon on February 23, 2013

It’s been 12 hours since my last drink. I was at a family gathering, when I saw a 48 pack on the floor, barely touched. Waiting. Just for me. I’ll admit, I snuck one in my purse.

I don’t remember when I started drinking – at least 15 years ago. My parents never approved. Until recently, my dad would use any opportunity to warn me about the dangers of drinking, I’m assuming to one day shock me into quitting. “Did you catch that story on the radio?” No dad, I did not.

Here’s the story:

A few years ago, a 30 – year old woman, Natasha Harris, died of a heart attack. She didn’t eat much, smoked about thirty cigarettes a day, all of her teeth had been extracted and she had 8 kids – at least one of whom was born without enamel on his/her teeth. Oh and – Natasha  was addicted to coke. She drank between 2.1 – 2.6 gallons of coca-cola a day.


Coke vs. Pepsi

Just like me. Wait, almost like me – I’m an addict, but I’m a Pepsi drinker (and I never drank 2 gallons a day). I’m a reformed drinker and this is why: last winter, I had a really bad toothache, but I had to wait it out until I had insurance coverage. Months later, I was told I’d need a root canal, a few fillings and if I’m not careful, two other root canals in the near future. Add in a half a dozen appointments and a shrinking balance in my student bank account. What all the horror stories about diabetes and tooth decay couldn’t accomplish, this experience was enough. It stuck.

But, I wanted to know: Could I risk the occasional pepsi? Would it be okay if I used a straw? And, overall, what impact do these drinks have on our oral health – what impact did it have on Natasha’s?

The enamel coating on our teeth protects them from daily wear, extreme temperatures, and acids. Acids, which damage this protective layer, are produced as byproducts of sugar breakdown in the mouth and are also introduced into our system through our diet (e.g. soda, orange juice). As the enamel coating erodes, our teeth are left vulnerable to cavities and infection.

Acidity & Sugar Content for Drinks
Courtesy of

Soda tends to be acidic since it contains phosphoric and citric acid. If you look at the table, you can see that pure water has a pH  of 7 (neutral), while coke has a pH of 2.5 (very acidic). Considering the amount of soda Natasha was consuming daily, over several years – without a proper diet to buffer the acidity and vigorous dental hygiene, severe decay and extraction of her teeth seems almost inevitable.

One of Natasha’s children doesn’t have enamel on his/her teeth, a condition known as enamel hypoplasia. Since the child was born without enamel, it is most likely due to severe malnourishment of the mother during pregnancy. The lack of protection makes the child much more vulnerable to cavities as well.

Natasha’s story is a bit of an outlier. Not many people drink over 2 gallons of soda a day. But, what does it really mean to consume 2.1 – 2.6 gallons of cola a day? What does that look like?

Amount of cola consumed

  • weekly: 15 – 18 gallons 
  • monthly: 63 – 78 gallons 
  • yearly: 766 – 949 gallons

For reference, 15 – 18 gallons a week is approximately the volume of a typical U.S. beer keg.

Natasha took in 3,179.74 – 3,936.83 calories a day from coke alone.

Calorie recommendations vary based on age, gender and activity level. However, according to the HHS/USDA 2010 Dietary guidelines, the number of calories needed for women ranges between 1,800 to 2,400. As you can see, the calories she consumed from coke alone are over 1.5 times greater than the daily calorie recommendation.

Natasha’s daily sugar intake from coke was 858.53g – 1,062.94g.

The American Heart Association recommends approximately no more than 28.6grams of sugar per day, for women. The amount of sugar consumed from 2.6gallons of coke a day is approximately equal to the yearly recommended amount of sugar for one person. You can also think of it as  equivalent to 242 – 300 packets of Domino sugar packets.

Natasha consumed 671.78 – 970.34mg of caffeine on a daily basis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the daily acceptable amount of caffeine consumed may range between 200 to 300 milligrams (mg), which is roughly 2 to 4 cups of coffee. However, the level of caffeine consumed from coke was approximately equivalent to 9 – 14 cups of coffee a day.

Courtesy of

Current status: I’m mostly pepsi free and try to floss every night. I’m also OK with my roommate (a dental student) putting up a poster titled, “Sip All Day, Get Decay” on my cork board to serve a cautionary tale for myself.