The truth about energy and sports drinks

  • Published
  • By Rickie Trahan
  • 96th Dental Squadron
Consumption of energy drinks and sports drinks are on the rise, so it's important for consumers to be aware of the effects of these types of drinks on teeth.

Advertising campaigns lead one to believe these energy and sports drinks are better for you than colas, when in reality, they are just as bad if not worse because of the risk of dental erosion.

Scientific studies show that drinking carbonated beverages are the leading cause of tooth erosion, the acid levels being a major factor in the breakdown of enamel leading to decay.

However, J. Anthony von Fraunhofer, of the University of Maryland Dental School, said recent studies reveal the enamel damage caused by non-cola and sports beverages is three to 11 times greater than cola-based drinks, with energy drinks and bottled lemonades causing the most harm to dental enamel.

One study continuously exposed caries-free molars and premolars to a variety of popular beverages including energy drinks, fitness waters and sports drinks, including non-cola beverages like lemonade and iced tea. The study, lasting 14 days, is the equivalent to 13 years of normal beverage consumption.

"General Dentistry" reported in its July/August 2008 issue, that lemonade, energy drinks and sports drinks caused the most damage, with fitness water, iced tea, and colas coming in far behind. This study found most cola-based drinks contain one or more acids, usually phosphoric acid. Sports drinks on the other hand, contain additives and organic acids, which advance the progression of dental erosion.

The reason these acids are so harmful, is their ability to break down the calcium in tooth enamel.

Dr. John Ruby, a pediatric dentist and associate professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Dentistry, found that drinks with a pH level below 4 cause tooth enamel erosion. Some energy drinks produce a synergistic effect because they also have a high sugar content, which makes them more likely to cause cavities.

In order to decrease exposure to the sugar and acids in these drinks, avoid sipping them. Limit the consumption time to approximately 30 minutes, followed immediately with some water to rinse the sugar and acid from the teeth. Also, extend the length of time between consuming these types of drinks, preferably about 2-2.5 hours.

Remember, water is the best beverage to drink to replenish fluids lost during normal physical activity.

The chart below shows the pH levels and sugar content of for an 8-ounce serving of some of the more popular drinks. Most bottle/can drinks usually have two servings or 16 ounces.

Beverages Acid Levels (pH) Sugars (in grams)

Water 7-neutral 0
Diet Coke 3.39 0
Propel 3.20 4
Nestea 3.04 17
Gatorade 2.95 14
Lemonade 2.50 29
Pepsi 2.49 27
Red Bull 3.20 27
SF Red Bull 3.30 0
Amp Energy 2.70 31
Full Throttle 2.90 58

SOURCE: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Coca-Cola Co.