There has been a lot of discussion about straws over the last few years – their impact on the environment and our teeth. If you are conflicted about whether or not to use a straw, we’re here to help settle the great straw debate.
Let’s start at the beginning. According to National Geographic, “A man named Marvin Stone was the first to file a patent for a drinking straw, in 1888. The Smithsonian Institute cites a widely touted legend saying Stone was drinking a mint julep on a hot summer day in 1880 when his piece of rye grass, then used as a straw, began to disintegrate.” He went on to patent a paper straw design. In the 1930s, straws gained the ability to bend, which made them sought after for hospitals.
Over the next few decades, straws gained in popularity, eventually becoming the plastic straws we are most familiar with today. They made life easier for those with disabilities and were believed to offer protection against staining and tooth decay. Here in present-day Houston, dentists are more aware of the damage straws can cause.
Straws May or May Not Prevent Teeth Staining
For a long time, people (dentists included) thought that drinking through a straw could prevent teeth staining. Now, Houston dental care teams understand that there are many factors that determine how effective straws are when it comes to teeth staining. For example, some of the most popular drinks known to cause staining are coffee and red wine. Most people, no matter how much they love their pearly whites, are not going to use a straw for drinking hot coffee or red wine.
More importantly, straws do not prevent the liquids from touching your teeth. Bustle claims, “While direct contact between your teeth and liquids might be avoided slightly with straws, they’re not going to protect them entirely, and other techniques are much more effective when it comes to keeping your teeth free from damage.” Moreover, there are multiple reasons for teeth staining, including tobacco use and eating highly acidic foods, which straws absolutely cannot protect you against.
Straws May Cause Tooth Decay
Another long-held idea that is now refuted by Houston dentists is that straws prevent tooth decay and cavities, especially when drinking sugary and acidic beverages. This is untrue. The truth is that if you can taste the drink, that means your teeth have already been exposed to the sugar and acid. According to dentists, “The only way to totally protect your teeth is to place the straw directly behind your teeth and your tongue, sipping the drink straight down your throat. This method is uncomfortable and defeats the purpose of drinking the beverage.”
Additionally, depending on how the straw is used, it may actually cause decay. For example, the positioning of the straw may cause beverages to hit the same teeth repeatedly, which will lead to decay and cavities towards the back of your mouth. The Daily Mail writes, “A report published in the 2005 issue of General Dentistry found straws can increase the risk of decay and cavities if people are frequently directing the liquid to a particular area in their mouth.”
Straws Should Never Be Used After Dental Surgery
It is also dangerous to use a straw following dental surgery. This is because the suction from the straw can cause blood clots to burst and make it harder to heal from your surgery. You don’t want to do damage to wounds that are healing.
Straws May Cause Bloating and Gas
Many people are shocked to learn that straws are also harmful to your overall health. For instance, straws are known to cause bloating and gas. When you drink through a straw, you swallow extra air. As a result, you may suffer from bloating, burping, gas, and abdominal pain. That’s why gastroenterologists tell their patients not to use straws when drinking.
Straws May Cause Aging
If looks matter to you, then you should know that drinking through straws regularly can affect your appearance and wind up with something known as smoker’s lips. One cosmetic dentist told Daily Mail, “When you drink from a straw, you pucker your lips in repetitive motion similar to smokers and over time this increases the formation of wrinkles around the mouth.”
Straws Do Cause Environmental Problems
According to National Geographic, “In just the U.S. alone, one estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches.” That’s a lot of environmental havoc straws are causing. This is why many places are banning plastic straws. Here in Houston, the Houston Zoo is single-use plastic straw free and is working with other Houston venues, restaurants, and bars to eliminate plastic straws.
Reusable Straws are Worrisome, Too
While reusable straws are certainly better for the environment, they still will lead to the dental problems we’ve discussed. Moreover, reusable straws have problems of their own. For example, if these straws are not cleaned properly, bacteria can build up. Additionally, some of the reusable straws are made of materials like stainless steel which are dangerous for your teeth.
The Best Alternative to Straws
If you want to protect your teeth from stains and decay, then you should get rid of the straw and stick to proven oral care routines. For example, brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and keep up with your regular dental appointments. And, as one dentist told Bustle, “When you do eat or drink something that has staining potential, swish your mouth with water, brush your teeth, or in a pinch, chew a piece of sugarless gum. Chewing gum and drinking water will also help your breath.”
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