Can sports and energy drinks take you on an everlasting acid trip?

The truth behind these beverages

It is universally acknowledged that sugar leads to decayed teeth. What is not as commonly understood is that the acid found in sports and energy drinks can do just as much damage. With claims that these beverages will enhance mental focus, athletic performance and energy levels, individuals often feel that they are a healthier alternative to fizzy soft drinks. However, research has illustrated that the high level of acidity in these beverages is destructive to tooth enamel and can cause permanent damage to teeth. Furthermore, there is limited evidence that consumption of these beverages leads to medical, psychological or nutritional benefits.

In 2012 the Journal of General Dentistry published a study examining the impact that sports and energy drinks have on dental health. It demonstrated that after five days of consistent exposure to a variety of these drinks, teeth were extensively damaged. It was established that owing to high acidity levels, energy drinks and to a reduced yet substantial degree sports drinks, cause erosion to tooth enamel. This process exposes teeth leaving them susceptible to decay, hypersensitivity and permanent damage.

Why and how is this occurring?

To preserve shelf life and increase taste, sports and energy drinks contain citric acid and usually a number of other acids. These two types of beverages are vastly different, yet many consumers fail to differentiate between them. The aim of sports drinks (the lesser evil of the two) is to rehydrate and stabilise electrolytes. Energy drinks are produced under the pretence of enhancing vitality, mental focus and athletic performance. Energy drinks are also extremely caffeinated and frequently contain added sugars, vitamins and plant extracts such as guarana – a plant based source of caffeine.

The pH scale ranges from 1-14, with the optimal pH of the mouth being 7.0 (neutral). A pH under 7.0 is considered acidic and anything over 7.0 is alkaline. If the mouth’s pH continuously drops below 5.5, due to the consumption of acidic beverages, individuals put themselves at an increased risk of developing dental decays. Furthermore, citric acid is highly erosive and continues to demineralize tooth enamel even once the pH of the mouth has been neutralised.

A survey lead by Chris Seaton from the Westmead Children’s hospital in Sydney has illustrated that on a daily basis approximately 35 percent of teenagers will consume two or more energy drinks. Additionally, statistics illustrate that the consumption of energy drinks within New Zealand and Australia quadrupled between 2001 and 2010. The most recent study conducted focussed on triathletes and the effect that regular consumption of sports and energy drinks had on their teeth. It was noted that these athletes, all who trained on average 10 hours per week, had elevated levels of tooth erosion compared to non-athletes. Additionally, athletes with harsher weekly training schedules increased their incidence of dental decay compared with athletes who did not train as frequently. This suggests that; 1) the mouth’s pH is lowered below the critical level due to consumption of a high amount of carbohydrates e.g. energy and sports drinks and gels; 2) saliva levels are reduced when breathing through the mouth; 3) daily consumption of highly acidic sports and energy drinks and gels are being consumed when athletes are dehydrated and low on saliva, meaning the mouth is less capable of countering these sugar and acid attacks.

Making sure you are accurately informed

Rather than resorting to daily consumption of sports and energy drinks, experts have suggested that energy levels can be enhanced through improved sleep patterns and a healthy diet. However, the belief that consumption of these beverages will be abandoned completely is somewhat unrealistic. Therefore, it is important that individuals have a thorough understanding of the adverse side-effects involved and ways in which to take preventative measures during the consumption of such beverages.

Tips to maintain healthy teeth when drinking sports and energy drinks

  • Replace sports and energy drinks with water.
  • Acid exposure to teeth can be decreased by avoiding swishing or holding beverages in the mouth for extended periods.
  • Drink through a straw – this will help decrease acid exposure as the straw will bypass the teeth. Additionally, try to finish beverages in one sitting.
  • Do not brush your teeth immediately after drinking acidic or sugary beverages. This could cause further damage as the enamel is still soft and can be brushed away. Delay brushing teeth for one hour.
  • As an alternative to brushing, water should be used to clear the mouth of acid and will aid in rehydration and increasing salivary flow.
  • Chewing on gum can help to neutralise and re-harden tooth surfaces and stimulates saliva production.

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The content on the LifeCare Dental website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice received from your dentist, doctor or other registered health professionals. LifeCare Dental makes no claim as to the accuracy or authenticity of this content.

Additionally, LifeCare Dental does not accept liability to any person for the information or advice provided on this website or incorporated into it by reference. Content has been prepared for Western Australian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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