Root beer is a carbonated, sweetened beverage, originally made using the root of a sassafras plant (or the bark of a sassafras tree) as the primary flavor. Root beer, popularized in North America, comes in two forms: alcoholic and soft drink. The historical root beer was analogous to small beer in that the process provided a drink with a very low alcohol content. Although roots are used as the source of many soft drinks in many countries throughout the world (and even alcoholic beverages/beers), the name root beer is rarely used outside North America and the Philippines. Most other countries have their own indigenous versions of root-based beverages and small beers but with different names.
There are hundreds of root beer brands in the United States, produced in every U.S. state, and there is no standardized recipe. The primary ingredient, artificial sassafras flavoring, is complemented with other flavors. Common flavorings are vanilla, wintergreen, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, clove and honey.
Although most mainstream brands are caffeine-free, there are some brands and varieties that contain caffeine. Homemade root beer is usually made from concentrate, though it can also be made from actual herbs and roots. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic root beers have a thick and foamy head when poured, often enhanced by the addition of Cassava extract.
Exposing teeth to soft drinks, even for a short period of time, causes dental erosion - and prolonged exposure can lead to significant enamel loss. Root beer products, however, are non-carbonated and do not contain the acids that harm teeth, according to a study in the March/April 2007 issue of General Dentistry, the AGD's clinical, peer-reviewed journal. That might be something to consider during the next visit to the grocery store.
Consumers often consider soft drinks to be harmless, believing that the only concern is sugar content. Most choose to consume "diet" drinks to alleviate this concern. However, diet drinks contain phosphoric acid and/or citric acid and still cause dental erosion - though considerably less than their sugared counterparts.
"Drinking any type of soft drink poses risk to the health of your teeth," says AGD spokesperson Kenton Ross, DMD, FAGD. Dr. Ross recommends that patients consume fewer soft drinks by limiting their intake to meals. He also advises patients to drink with a straw, which will reduce soda's contact with teeth.