By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
A new study shows that energy and sports drinks can damage tooth enamel, boosting the risk of cavities.
Researcher Poonam Jain, associate professor and director of community dentistry at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine said, “The big misconception is that energy drinks and sports drinks are healthier than soda for oral health. This study completely disproves that, because they erode or thin out the enamel of the teeth, leaving them more susceptible to decay and sensitivity.”
Jain and her team tested 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks for acidity. They tested six drinks for their effects on tooth enamel and found both types caused damage. Energy drinks, however, were twice as bad. Damaged tooth enamel cannot be fixed. The study is published in the journal General Dentistry. They tested the acidity levels of all 22 drinks. They found the levels of acidity in the drinks vary between brands and between flavors of the same brands. Gatorade Blue had the highest acidity among sports drinks. Next was Hydr8. Among the energy drinks with the highest acidity were Red Bull Sugarfree, Monster Assault, 5-hour Energy, Von Dutch and Rockstar. MDX had the lowest acidity of the energy drinks.
The drinks are especially popular among teens and young adults. Up to half of U.S. teens and young adults drink energy drinks, and more than half have at least one sports drink a day, according to the researchers.
Jain's team immersed enamel samples from extracted human teeth into three sports drinks and three energy drinks. The enamel samples were immersed in the drinks for 15 minutes. The researchers transferred the enamel to artificial saliva for two hours. This cycle was repeated four times a day for five days. The beverages were replaced with fresh ones every day. The cycle was meant to simulate real life, Jain said, as some teens and young adults drink the beverages every few hours.
Enamel loss was evident after five days of exposure, Jain said. The average enamel lost with sports drinks was about 1.5%, while the average loss with energy drinks was more than 3%. Jain says she cannot pinpoint what percent of enamel loss would cause problems.
The American Beverage Association however argues against the study said Tracey Halliday, a spokesperson. An ABA statement reads, “This study was not conducted on humans and in no way mirrors reality.”
According to ABA, the four drinks a day simulated by the study is above average. So, too, is the length of time the enamel was exposed. “People do not keep any kind of liquid in their mouths for 15-minute intervals over five day periods,” the statement says. “Furthermore, it is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages, or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay.” Susceptibility to dental problems depends on personal hygiene, lifestyle, total diet, and genetic makeup, according to the ABA.
Elaine Lutz, a spokesperson for 5-hour Energy, also released a statement in response to the study, “This report is wholly irrelevant to 5-hour Energy because our product is an energy shot, not an energy drink.” The volume in the product, she says, is eight times less than what is found in other energy drinks. For that reason and others, she said, the results would not apply. The product is marketed only to adults, she added.
Even one drink a day is potentially harmful, Jain warned. “If the consumer is absolutely unable to give them up, the best advice is to minimize [their use] and rinse with water afterwards,” she said. “Dilute them,” she advised. Do not brush immediately after drinking them, she said, as this could spread around the acid. “The mouth takes about 30 minutes to bring the pH back to normal.” Wait an hour after drinking the sports or energy drink, to be safe, then brush, Jain said.
“Teens regularly come into my office with these types of symptoms, but they don’t know why,” says Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) spokesperson Jennifer Bone. “They don’t realize that something as seemingly harmless as a sports or energy drink can do a lot of damage to their teeth.” The only way to prevent the damage is to cut down on energy and sports drink consumption, Ms Bone said.