No shit Sherlock, acid dissolves stuff

The highly outrageous, and not very scientific, Natural News Forensic Food Lab, have just conducted a study in which they bathed animal teeth in acid for twelve hours and observed the results. They came to this highly shocking conclusion:

Phosphoric acid dissolves teeth.

I think Natural News deserves a good round of applause for conducting a high-school level chemistry experiment and confirming a basic chemical reaction we’ve already known about for a very long time. Scientists have been dunking all kinds of stuff in all kinds of acid for years, and have a pretty good idea of what reacts to what. In fact, chemists and biochemists already understand the fundamentals of these reactions as well! Isn’t it wonderful? I think NN are a bit behind the lab-coats on this one.

Of course, this investigation, is centered around popular soft-drinks (Coke, Sprite, 7-Up, etc) containing phosphoric acid as a “key ingredient”. Yeah, it’s a key ingredient, so what? I’m not entirely sure what they’re trying to prove with this article. It starts off by stating basic details about the “forensic” investigation they’ve conducted, then goes on to a disclaimer saying that any critics of the article will all be working for and endorsed by the soft-drink industry, and that all us skeptics of their crappy science are just butthurt, closed-minded crazy people.

I guess that makes me a butthurt, closed-minded crazy person.

Lets roll off some already well know common knowledge about popular carbonated soft-drinks:

  • They’re not particularly good for you, but delicious, so moderate your intake
  • They can corrode your teeth, so moderate your intake
  • They’re packed full of sugar, so moderate your intake

There is almost zero harm to enjoying a couple of cans of soft-drinks every week. I drink more of the stuff than the average person and every time I visit the dentist I’m told that I have incredibly strong, healthy teeth if not a little stained from black coffee and cigarettes (quit yesterday, woo, go me!). If you moderate your intake you will suffer no health impact whatsoever. It’s common sense. About a gazillion people a year (wow, gazillion is a word?) drink carbonated soft drinks filled with phosphoric acid and shit loads of sugar. As far as I’m aware, inside my skeptical bubble, there isn’t an epidemic of soft-drink related death or instant loss of dental integrity similar to the effect of being hit in the face repeatedly with a cricket bat.

The guys over at NN seem to want to prove that putting phosphoric acid in soft drinks is highly dangerous. They set out to do this by finding some dead wild boar somewhere in the Texas outback, remove their teeth and return them to “the lab”. During this highly scientific procedure – in which the teeth weren’t weighed before or after, because that’s going to be for another experiment – the teeth were soaked in 85% phosphoric acid for twelve hours, photographed using the wonders of ‘microscopy’, and are then subject to a lot of “ooo’s”, and “aah’s” when the teeth had pretty much become useless at being teeth.

What a load of absolute nonsense. While these drinks do contain phosphoric acid, and are acidic, what NN doesn’t tell you is that a glass of orange juice can weigh in as more acidic on the good ol’ PH scale than your classic glass of sweet, sweet Coca Cola. I smell fear mongering. The phosphoric acid, at the levels present, in coke poses no major health risk to a human being unless you drink five gallons a day. And, if you’re doing that, it’s not the Coke – there’s already something seriously wrong with you.

Then, to add insult to injury: “Phosphoric acid damages your teeth as much as using meth” – because drinking a sugary drink is about as unhealthy as using a psychoactive drug, isn’t it? No. Like I said earlier, in moderation it won’t do anything serious to your health at all.

It’s unclear just why Natural News have decided to launch this random attack against phosphoric acid. The use of it in soft drinks has been tested and approved by food regulators around the world for a very long time. It would be near impossible to hide any serious negative results for so long. Big-Sugary-Soft-Drink-Makers-That-Want-To-Kill-Everyone don’t have their fingers in every pie in the world. Again, near impossible, and laughably absurd.

And, to cap all of this off is the most depressing statement I’ve heard all day: “More forensic food investigations coming soon from Natural News”. I’d really rather they just didn’t. Though, the article did make me chuckle, so for that I raise a glass of Coke in spirit of good times.

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About Brad Smith
Freelance writer, blogger and secular humanist. I run "The Atom Stew" blog and I'm the self-appointed editor of Skeptical World.

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