From the time you’re a child, you’re warned that sugary drinks can be bad for your teeth. But many young people with Mountain Dew mouth are finding out just how true those warnings are.

Mountain Dew mouth refers to the tooth decay that accompanies the frequent consumption of soda, particularly — as you may have guessed — Mountain Dew. The phenomenon is most common in the Appalachian region of the United States, where some 65 percent of children in West Virginia suffer from tooth decay, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But how does this widespread dental drama happen and what can you do to ensure your teeth remain healthy?

How Soda Damages Your Teeth

Carbonated soft drinks are bad for your teeth. It’s as simple as that. But the reasons aren’t quite so simple.

A combination of sugars, carbonation, and acids within the beverages are credited with the dental damage, so much so that the Mississippi State Department of Health calls soft drink consumption “one of several leading causes of tooth decay.”

Sugar, carbonation, and acids weaken tooth enamel, the protective covering on your teeth. They also encourage the growth of bacteria in the mouth. Without enamel protecting your teeth, these bacteria can do significant damage.

Mountain Dew mouth is a phenomenon associated strictly with the greenish soft drink Mountain Dew. This soda has approximately 11 teaspoons of sugar per serving — more than Coca Cola or Pepsi. Mountain Dew also contains a considerable amount of citric acid, an ingredient often used in lemon or lime-flavored foods and drinks. Experts say this acidic ingredient adds another layer of danger to the drink.

How Common Is It?

How to Avoid Mountain Dew Mouth:
  • Drink quickly, so the acid has less time to harm your teeth.
  • Wait one hour before brushing your teeth.
  • Go to the dentist regularly.
  • Avoid soft drinks.

It’s difficult to say just how common Mountain Dew mouth is, but we know the consumption of soft drinks is at an all time high. The soft drink industry is a $72 billion dollar a year industry, with many Americans consuming multiple soft drinks in a single day.

In some areas of the country, this rate is higher. Experts on Mountain Dew mouth suggest that Americans in Appalachia are particularly vulnerable because they’re more likely to live in poverty, have less access to quality dental care, and are simply unaware of the damage they’re doing their teeth. After all, soda is cheaper than milk and it doesn’t go bad.

It’s not unusual to see young mothers putting Mountain Dew in their baby’s bottles, or young adults with rotting teeth in this region of the country, according to Dana Singer, a researcher with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.

What Are the Solutions?

One easy way to avoid Mountain Dew mouth is simply to reduce or stop drinking Mountain Dew and other soft drinks. But if you just can’t kick the habit, there are other ways to reduce the risk.

Drink quickly. Experts say that sipping on these beverages throughout the day compounds the danger. It bathes your teeth in a steady stream of the damaging acids and sugars.

Visit the dentist. Proper dental care is also important. Regular visits to the dentist can spot cavities and damage before it progresses to visible tooth decay.

Wait before you brush. One study suggests brushing immediately after drinking soda can cause even greater damage, as the enamel is vulnerable in the moments just after you expose it to acids. Researchers suggest you wait at least one hour after drinking before you brush your teeth.

On a larger scale, experts have suggested taxing sodas, making them unavailable for purchase with food stamps, and increasing education for at-risk populations.

Weigh in with your opinion on the soda tax.