Do you and your teeth really need that sports drink?

If you’ve ever seen an ad for Gatorade or Powerade (of course you have – their presence is ubiquitous), you’d be forgiven for thinking these drinks possess some kind of magic performance enhancing power; a liquid, but legal, steroid so to speak.

A cynic might question this. A cynic might be right.

Because, when it comes down to it, for the casual athlete, the only thing a sports drink can increase is the speed at which their teeth erode. You see, according to Know Your Teeth

“General Dentistry… found that an alarming 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.”

The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth

Looking at an ingredient label, it can be difficult to tell what actually goes into a sports drink. The American Academy of Paediatrics advise that they “usually contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavouring. Their purpose is to replace the water and electrolytes that are lost during sweating.”

Brandishing slogans like “Gatorade Always Wins” and featuring our favourite sporting stars, it’s easy to believe that you won’t deliver your best on the sporting field without sipping away on a fluorescent yellow beverage. This may explain why 62% of US teens consume at least one sports drink per day.

However, many sources caution that for most of us weekend warriors, and especially children, the drinks are unnecessary. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation maintain “the benefits of sports drinks are appropriate only for athletes or individuals engaging in prolonged vigorous physical activity, and/or those activities performed in high temperatures and humidity.” In spite of this “sports drink manufacturers are targeting children and adolescents. In 2010, Gatorade television ads were ranked among the top five most-advertised products seen by children and adolescents.”

Aside from providing a serve of empty calories, drinking a sports drink has also been likened to “bathing your teeth with acid” by Know Your Teeth. They go on to say:

“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 flavours 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 times.

The researchers found that damage was evident after only five days of exposure to sports or energy drinks.”

And take heed of the Australian Dental Association who warn that if you spread your drink out over the course of a day, you’ll trigger a new 20 minute acid attack with every sip. Frightening stuff, especially when you consider that loss of enamel leads to cavities and their associated pain.

If you must reach for a sports drink, use a straw and always remember to swish some water around your mouth afterwards, waiting one hour before brushing your teeth. If the saccharine taste bothers you in the meantime, chew some sugar-free gum.

Better options

We’re not doctors, but the evidence we have read is clear; most children and casual athletes will be fine to drink water while engaging in sport, with chocolate milk a recommended post activity drink. Of course, if you are a serious athlete concerned about fuelling your body, we recommend speaking with a qualified medical team to ensure you’re hydrating effectively.

Conclusion

It’s a sad reality that we are seeing patients attending our surgery who have bought into the hype surrounding sports drinks, and are now suffering the consequences of compromised oral health. The good news is, we are experienced in treating decay. We just ask that you swap that next Powerade for a bottle of water instead.

Oh, and don’t get us started on energy drinks…

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