People with active lifestyles may rely on sports or energy drinks to recharge or rehydrate after exercising. However, regular long-term use of these beverages may cause irreversible damage to dental enamel, the thin, outer layer of the tooth that helps preserve the tooth's structure and prevent decay.
Enamel damage caused by non-cola and sports beverages was 3 to 11 times greater than cola-based drinks, according to a study cited in General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's clinical, peer-reviewed journal.
In the study, enamel from cavity-free molars and premolars was exposed to a variety of popular sports beverages, including energy drinks, fitness water and sports drinks, cola and non-cola beverages, such as bottled lemonade and canned iced tea. The tooth enamel was steeped in the drinks for a total of 14 days, weighing them every 24 to 48 hours. The solution's acidity was checked, and solutions were changed daily.
The exposure time was intended to simulate the effects of normal beverage consumption over about 13 years.
The result was significant enamel damage associated with all beverages tested, including (from greatest to least damage to dental enamel): lemonade, energy drinks, sports drinks, fitness water, iced tea and cola. Most cola-based drinks contain one or more acids, commonly phosphoric and citric acids, which contribute to enamel damage. Sports beverages contain other additives and organic acids that further advance dental erosion. Organic acids erode dental enamel because of their ability to break down calcium, which is needed to strengthen teeth and prevent gum disease.
The best way to avoid potential dental enamel damage is to exercise caution when using sports drinks and similar beverages over a long period of time. Keep your intake level healthy by alternating sports drinks with water or low-fat milk after a workout to preserve tooth enamel and ultimately protect teeth from decay.
Craig Horswill, the senior research fellow at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, disputes the research.
“This study does not replicate real life as the teeth were studied extracted from the mouth. Ohio State University recently conducted a study of some 300 athletes, the most comprehensive to date, and concluded that there is no relationship between the consumption of sports drinks and dental erosion,” he says.
The 2002 OSU study to which he’s referring found that out of 279 consumers of sports drinks, 64 percent did not have any dental erosion and 36 percent had dental erosion. Conversely, out of the 25 athletes who did not consume any sports drinks, 60 percent did not have any dental erosion and 40 percent had erosion. The study was supported by a grant from Quaker Oats, which, along with Gatorade, is owned by PespiCo.