The Last Straw?

The American diet offers an amazing variety of tastes, textures and combinations. When it comes to foods, we repeatedly discover berries, greens, roots or spices to give our tongues an endless adventure! In our culinary explorations, we’ve found ways to add many of these foods to our drinks. We then enjoy these flavors and colors on the go or during our breaks, in a convenient cup instead of on a plate or in a bowl. As a result, making and providing coffees, teas, smoothies and juices is a multi-billion-dollar business.

Sadly for bright, white things, the ingredients lending these drinks their vibrant colors and flavors contain tannins and acids that are easily transferrable, producing stains on our fabrics and our teeth. Now, cloths can be laundered, but what about our teeth? How can we stop these convenient and tasty drinks from reducing our shiny smile to a duller shade? If only there was a way to allow these drinks to bypass our front teeth while still sparking our taste buds!

Enter the Drinking Tube

About 5,000 years ago, Sumerians used long, thin tubes to dip into large jars and drink the beer down below. These straws were often elaborately decorated to indicate someone’s class or economic status. And as a side benefit on the cosmetic front, straws brought drinks past the front teeth, deterring the formation of enamel stains.

In the late 1800’s, American Marvin Stone was the first to file a patent for the modern version of such drinking tubes. His were made of paper coated with wax and called drinking straws or artificial straws. Using his straws meant less accidental spillage, since they were more durable than natural reeds. They also didn’t leave vegetable matter in the drink, or lend or grassy taste to the beverage. In the 1930’s, Joseph Friedman created the first major improvement on the straw by designing the flex-straw in San Francisco.

During the Second World War, plastic production skyrocketed to meet wartime needs. After the conflict ended, American manufacturers wanted a new market for plastic. Plastic drinking straws poured out of factories, since they were more durable and cheaper to produce than paper straws. And much like their paper predecessors, plastic drinking straws were thought disposable.

Repercussions from Plastic Straws

Straws paired with plastic covers for cups made a convenient tag team, and eventually this system become the predominant method of serving beverages on the go. Millions of straws are now used per day, just in the United States alone. Decades of production, use, and pollution involving plastic straws has resulted in some municipal authorities taking measures to reduce plastic products like “disposable” drinking straws. But at the same time, teeth-staining agents are finding their way into more and more varieties of drinks. As dentists, we feel that straws are still a good thing!

Alternative Materials for Straws

Many companies are now producing drinking straws out of glass and also more permanent plastics. Paper straws are making a comeback too! Metal is also featured, with stainless steel drinking straws sold in a wide variety of lengths, diameters and shapes. These durable versions may even come with special brushes for cleaning. Many individuals appreciate the lack of plastic taste when they drink, and our dentists like the fact that you can no longer chew the straw if you use one made of steel! Buy a new, long-lasting straw and it may become the last one you will ever need!

Of course, from a dental perspective, the biggest benefit in using all kinds of straws is that they keep staining agents away from your teeth. If you’d like to know more about preventing tooth stains or how to get tooth whitening, read our website, stop by our office, call the Placerville Dental Group, or schedule a checkup online and we can discuss it during your visit. We’re happy to help keep your teeth white in any way we can!


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