With the coming of fall, we also see the arrival of pumpkin spice flavored everything. But the vanguard and champion of them all is Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte, whose arrival every year is treated as a singular event, a marking of the changing season as inevitable and reliable as the equinox itself.

But what is the impact of this seasonal ritual? Is it good or bad for your oral health. The short answer is that it’s bad. But it’s not all bad, and the good and the bad of it are instructive of different factors to keep in mind as you make your daily food choices.

A pumpkin spice latte

The Good Aspects of Pumpkin Spice Lattes

So what’s good about this confectionary beverage? There are several ingredients that may be protective to your oral health. First, it starts with coffee, which has been shown to be very protective of your oral health. Coffee has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can protect against gum disease. Coffee is associated with a protective effect against cavities–if consumed without sugar. Even with milk there’s still a slight protective effect, which is good, because milk provides a strong defense against the staining that otherwise comes with coffee consumption.

Another good aspect of pumpkin spice lattes is the spices. Many of the spices in the mix have been shown to have a protective effect for your oral health. Cinnamon is the spice used most in the mix, and its anti-inflammatory properties can provide protection against gum disease. It also includes essential oils that can impair the activity of oral bacteria that cause cavities. Ginger also has the ability to reduce inflammation and impair oral bacteria. Nutmeg has also been shown to prevent cavities.

The Bad Aspects of Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Wow. With all those protective elements, you’d surely think that a pumpkin spice latte must be good for your oral health. Unfortunately, all those benefits are overwhelmed by the massive amounts of sugar in the drink. It’s extremely sweet. A 16-ounce (Grande) pumpkin spice latte contains 50 grams of sugar. That’s over 12 teaspoons of sugar–twice the recommended daily sugar consumption! Sugar tastes great, but it also fuels the action of oral bacteria. When oral bacteria can get sugar, they can grow, spread, and excrete acid on your teeth, which robs them of minerals and begins forming cavities.

The dangers of sugar to your teeth are increased because of the way you consume it, too. Few people chug their pumpkin spice latte. No, it’s the sort of drink you love to sip and savor. And that means that you’re giving a slow, steady supply of food to your oral bacteria, which means they can turn it into acid over a long period of time. This means they’ll produce more acid and do more damage to your teeth over time, increasing the risk of cavity formation.

Protect Your Teeth from Pumpkin Spice Everything

Pumpkin spice lattes are not the only danger to your teeth packaged in a delicious treat. Most pumpkin spice products you’ll see over the season are packed with sugar and dangerous to your teeth. The worst of these are the ones that will stick to your teeth or that you consume slowly over time.

To avoid damage from these treats, the best thing to do is to make them occasional treats. They’re not everyday foods. Enjoy just a few to help get the spirit of the season. Also, rinse your mouth with water after consumption to remove residues and neutralize the acid. Brushing teeth too soon after can cause damage to your teeth.

Try to find options that have little or no sugar. For example, you can get a latte with no sugar, then add sugar and spices to your taste. You’ll find that you can enjoy it with much less than the 12 teaspoons in the pumpkin spice latte.

But if you find that your teeth have been damaged or stained by pumpkin spice lattes or other treats of the season, we can help. Teeth whitening can combat stains, and reconstructive dentistry can repair cavities and other damage.

For help maintaining or restoring your oral health, please call 703-323-8200 today for an appointment with Fairfax County cosmetic dentist Dr. Pamela Marzban in Burke, VA.