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.


Mary Hall February 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Thanks for taking an unusual story and placing it in a broader context — highlighting the public health implications of soda consumption. I read the original, very sad story without realizing all that lies in a simple can of Coke (or any other soda for that matter). The facts are stunning!

Haifa Haroon February 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Thanks, Mary!

David Reedy February 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Good article. I saw the post in the e-mail and figured it was alcohol related. I was surprised when it turned out to be about soda. One complaint – the chart was barely readable. Too small to read at 100% and when I enlarged the page to 200% it was so fuzzy it was also hard to read.

Haifa Haroon February 24, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I fixed the chart. Thanks for bringing that to my attention!

karenz February 24, 2013 at 10:24 am

In 2000, a local dentist had noticed an increase in the enamel, cavities and root canals in his HS age patients. The HS had a machine dispensing 16oz. soda with screw top lids. Students were sipping the sugary liquid all day. The school board removed the soda machines. On a recent note, I had my first root canal when I was 45…I remember thinking it made me feel old. I recently spoke to two college seniors who like you have had root canals. Your article has shed light on the topic in my mind once again.
PS I like the poster.

Haifa Haroon February 24, 2013 at 9:07 pm

That’s great that the board removed the machines. They should do that in more schools – or at least the number that are available. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

Tracy Swinburn February 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

Thanks Haifa – I enjoyed this article. I previously read about Natasha’s story online and read the mention that at least one of her children was born without tooth enamel, but I couldn’t understand the implicit connection to cola there. Could it be that drinking too much cola could cause your children to be born without enamel? Your explanation of this being likely linked to malnourishment was a very helpful addition to the story.

Haifa Haroon March 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Hi Tracy,

Sorry for the late reply. I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Enamel deficiency can be genetic. It’s known as amelogenesis imperfecta, which is a rare X-linked disease. It is also linked to obesity, smoking and malnourishment during pregnancy (lack of protein). The articles mentioned smoking, a poor diet (on top of the coke addiction), which probably all contributed to her child being born without enamel.

It would be interesting to know if the child affected was the youngest (of the 8) and if any of her other children were born with the same condition.

Virginia March 1, 2013 at 11:37 pm

I emailed this convincing blog to several family members since it is truly an eye opener. Thank you.
I mentor three med students here in our retirement village. Several other mentors mentioned the fact that they served canned pop and “how well it went over” with the students. Of course I could not demonstrate a holier than thou attitude and tell them that I would never do that. We seniors should be role models in every way possible.

Haifa Haroon March 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm

That’s hilarious! I’m glad you enjoyed it, Virginia.

Angela March 3, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Thanks for the post! A bit of an abrupt ending, but a good issue to raise. Did you hear about the association of cola consumption with increase in bone fractures?

Haifa Haroon March 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I agree – it is an abrupt ending. I’ll try to go back and fix it.

I had not read heard about that. That’s really interesting!

Thanks for the feedback, Angela!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: