Are sports drinks good for your teeth?

The short answer is “no”. Sports drinks often contain 6-8 teaspoons of sugar and are highly acidic, and as such over time, regular consumption can lead to tooth decay and/or tooth erosion.

When teeth are exposed to high acid levels continuously, teeth are affected with the outer protective layer being attacked and softening. Acid attack can occur with the intake of sugar on a regular basis, or the intake of acidic food or drinks on a regular basis. With sports drinks (and soft drinks) we get a double whammy.

Most people know that eating too much sugar can cause tooth decay. We have millions of bacteria residing in our mouths and often these sit directly against our teeth in the presence of plaque. Each time you consume a sports drink, you are effectively feeding the bacteria in your mouth with sugar. The bacteria process the sugar, and produces acid in the process. This acid creates a harmful environment for our teeth with the potential to strip away the minerals in our teeth. Ordinarily our saliva which also contains protective substances counteracts this acid keeping things in balance, however where the acid attack is continuous, the tooth is affected. This can initially show up as tiny demineralised patches on the tooth’s surface. Over time, with continued acid attacks, these patches grow in width and depth developing into holes known as cavities (or tooth decay). If the cavity is small enough, it may be repaired with a regular filling. However, if it grows undetected, more extensive or complex treatment may be required to address the resulting concerns.

Dental erosion is very different to dental decay, but can be just as bad for our teeth. Dental erosion occurs when teeth are exposed to excessive acids in some foods and drinks, like sports drinks. These essentially dissolve the outer enamel layer of the tooth. When acid is present frequently, our natural defence system cannot combat the acid levels and tooth erosion occurs.

In the case of Sport Drinks, continuous acid attacks occur when we sip these regularly and do not allow our bodies natural defence mechanisms to neutralise the acids present. By not allowing the acid levels to return to neutral, we continually bath our teeth in acid, which will lead to dental erosion if it continues.

So for those of you who train regularly, and consume sports drinks on a regular basis for the purpose of rehydration, consider changing to plain water to replace fluids. If you use the sports drinks to replace electrolytes, then consider consuming the drink in one go, then using water for the remainder of your rehydration and throughout the day/sporting event.

Remember the best offence is defence, so reduce the risk of dental decay and dental erosion by;

  • avoiding excessive consumption of sports drinks and other acidic/sugary food and drinks
  • allowing the acid levels in your mouth to return to normal by keeping ingestion of sugars/acids to a minimum and at meal times, not constantly throughout the day
  • chew sugar free gum to increase your saliva flow to help dilute and wash away food particles and acid
  • keep bacteria away from the tooth surface by regularly removing dental plaque from your teeth. The best way to achieve this is through regular brushing and flossing routines, and regular check-ups with your dentist for a professional clean.

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