Athletes should be aware that sports drinks may be as harmful to their teeth as soft drinks or fruit juice.
Sports drinks that are consumed very regularly, such as part of a fitness regime, can actually contribute to tooth decay and erosion of the enamel due to the high levels of sugar and sodium they contain. Other signs of potential damage include structural weakness, teeth discolouration and tooth sensitivity.
Sport drinks are often a preferred liquid options for athletes, who consume it when dehydrated when there is less saliva to protect the teeth, increasing the damaging effects of the sugar in the drink. There are concerns that repeat exposure could permanently damage the enamel and teeth, just as with soft drinks and fruit juices.
However, dentists have been quick to point out that results remain unconfirmed and that sports drinks are a practical solution for athletes to quickly replace lost sodium and electrolytes in the body during exercise. They simply recommend rinsing the mouth with water after drinking sports drinks to prevent any damage. Also, patients should wait at least an hour to brush their teeth after consuming sports and energy drinks. Otherwise they will be spreading acid onto the tooth surfaces, increasing the erosive action.
A study published in a recent issue of General Dentistry found that the increase in the consumption of sports and energy drinks, especially among adolescents, is causing irreversible damage to teeth—specifically, the high acidity levels in the drinks erode tooth enamel, the glossy outer layer of the tooth.
“Young adults consume these drinks assuming that they will improve their sports performance and energy levels and that they are ‘better’ for them than soda,” said Dr. Poonam Jain, lead author of the study. “Most of these patients are shocked to learn that these drinks are essentially bathing their teeth with acid.”
Researchers examined the acidity levels in 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks. They found that the acidity levels can vary between brands of beverages and flavors of the same brand. To test the effect of the acidity levels, the researchers immersed samples of human tooth enamel in each beverage for 15 minutes, followed by immersion in artificial saliva for two hours. This cycle was repeated four times a day for five days, and the samples were stored in fresh artificial saliva at all other times.
“This type of testing simulates the same exposure that a large proportion of American teens and young adults are subjecting their teeth to on a regular basis when they drink one of these beverages every few hours,” said Dr. Jain.
The researchers found that damage to enamel was evident after only five days of exposure to sports or energy drinks, although energy drinks showed a significantly greater potential to damage teeth than sports drinks. In fact, the authors found that energy drinks caused twice as much damage to teeth as sports drinks.
With a reported 30 to 50 percent of U.S. teens consuming energy drinks, and as many as 62 percent consuming at least one sports drink per day, it is important to educate parents and young adults about the downside of these drinks. Damage caused to tooth enamel is irreversible, and without the protection of enamel, teeth become overly sensitive, prone to cavities, and more likely to decay.
James Jung, DDS