Scientific studies are now revealing the full extent of damage a person can inadvertently cause to their tooth enamel by consuming highly acidic beverages. With a reported 30- 50 percent of U.S. teenagers consuming popularized energy drinks on a daily basis, it is important that parents and young adults as well as fitness enthusiasts, understand the disadvantages these drinks can pose to oral health.
A recent study cited in General Dentistry; the Academy of General Dentistry’s clinical, peer-reviewed journal has revealed that fitness-minded adults and adolescents who routinely consume sports and energy drinks have an alarming increase in irreversible damage to teeth, damage that specifically targets the tooth enamel; the thin, outer layer of the tooth that helps preserve the tooth’s structure and prevent decay. Damage caused to sensitive tooth enamel is almost always irreversible, and without the protection of enamel, teeth become highly sensitive, prone to cavities, and more prone to decay.
The True Cost of Consuming Sports Drinks
People who pursue active lifestyles ironically may avoid colas or sugary drinks in favor of what they believe to be a ‘healthier’ alternative and so they tend to rely on sports or energy drinks to rehydrate after exercising. But, with the results of recent studies pointing to the fact that regular long-term use of such highly acidic beverages can lead to irreversible damage to dental enamel, athletic types are best advised to take precautions to protect their teeth by either choosing an alternative or adopting a habit of rinsing after consuming acidic drinks.
To determine the true acidic properties researchers examined the levels of acid in 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks. To test the effect of the acidity levels, samples of human tooth enamel were immersed in each beverage for 15 minutes, followed by immersion in artificial saliva for two hours. The test was repeated over five days, four times each day. The goal of the test was to simulate the same type of exposure teeth are subject to by someone who drinks an average of one beverage every few hours. The researchers found that damage to enamel was evident after only five days, and energy drinks in particular showed a significantly greater potential to damage teeth than sports drinks – in fact, up to twice as much damage.
From this test and others of a similar type we can now conclude that enamel damage associated with all beverages ranging from greatest (1) to least (6) damage to dental enamel are as follows:
- energy drinks
- sports drinks
- fitness water
- iced tea
Most cola-based drinks contain more than one type of acid, generally phosphoric and citric acids, both of which contribute to enamel damage. Sports beverages contain a range of other additives and organic acids that further exacerbate dental erosion. Organic acids also erode dental enamel as they break down calcium, which is needed to strengthen teeth and prevent gum disease.
How to Minimize the Damage
The best way to avoid damaging your dental enamel is to exercise caution when using sports drinks and similar beverages on a routine basis. Alternating sports drinks with water or low-fat milk after a workout can help to preserve tooth enamel and ultimately protect teeth from decay, but the best alternative is to minimize the intake of sports and energy drinks altogether. If you must drink acidic beverages it is advisable to chew sugar-free gum or rinse the mouth with water following consumption of the drinks as a way to increase saliva flow, which naturally helps to normalize acidity levels in the mouth. To avoid spreading acid onto the tooth surfaces thereby increasing the erosive action, it is a good idea to wait at least an hour before brushing after consuming sports and energy drinks.