Drinking diet drinks or fruit tea between meals can leave people up to 11 times more likely to suffer from tooth erosion, research has found.
Salt and vinegar crisps are also among problem foods which contain high levels of acid that can wear away teeth, the research from King’s College London shows.
Dentists warned that drinking acidic drinks – such as fruit teas, or lemon in water – between meals had one of the most damaging effects.
Such habits increased the chance of moderate or severe tooth erosion, eleven-fold.
If such drinks were consumed with meals, just half as much damage was done.
The study also found sugar-free soft drinks are as erosive as sugar-sweetened ones.
Their investigation, published in the British Dental Journal, said dentists were seeing increasing numbers of patients with tooth erosion, which may be linked to changing patterns of eating, such as increased snacking in both children and adults.
In the last five years, the number of children and teenagers to undergo tooth extraction in hospital has risen by 17 per cent, with 43,000 cases in 2016/17, official figures show.
Lead author Dr Saoirse O’Toole said: “It is well known that an acidic diet is associated with erosive tooth wear, however our study has shown the impact of the way in which acidic food and drinks are consumed.
“With the prevalence of erosive tooth wear increasing, it is vitally important that we address this preventable aspect of erosive tooth wear.
“Reducing dietary acid intake can be key to delaying progression of tooth erosion. While behaviour change can be difficult to achieve, specific, targeted behavioural interventions may prove successful.”
While their data review found that increased consumption between meals was the biggest risk factor, it also said the way people consumed drinks could increase the risks.
“Habitually drinking acidic drinks by sipping them slowly or swishing, rinsing or holding acidic drinks in the mouth prior to swallowing will also increase risk of progression,” the study found.
Among fruit teas, those with high levels of acid included ginger and lemon, berry and rosehip flavours.
Drinking certain acids like cider vinegar – promoted recently as a weight loss method – was also found to increase the rate of erosion. Those drinking it weekly saw a 10-fold rise in erosion, which means the loss of tooth enamel and dentine, which can make teeth yellowed or sensitive.
The researchers found that the rate of erosion was halved when drinks were consumed with meals.
Erosion affects the whole tooth surface whereas decay is when a cavity is formed.
Erosion, which affects more than 30 per cent of adults in Europe, is ranked as the third most important dental condition, after cavities and gum disease.