Energy drinks and sports drinks are supposed to be better than soda, right? Wrong. This is what a recently concluded study reveals; more specifically, energy and sports drinks are bad for the teeth, according to research conducted by a team from Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.
Poonam Jain, BDS, MPH, one of the researchers and an associate professor and director of community dentistry at the said university, says that the notion that energy and sports drinks are better for oral health than soda is a “big misconception.” “This study completely disproves that, because they erode or thin out the enamel of the teeth, leaving them more susceptible to decay and sensitivity,” she explains.
However, the finding “in no way mirrors reality,” counters the American Beverage Association’s (ABA) spokesperson, Tracey Halliday.
Statistics show that energy and sports drinks are popular among teens and young adults with nearly 50 percent of those in the said age group drinking energy drinks and more than 50 percent drinking at least one sports drink every day.
The researchers tested the acidity levels of nine energy drinks and 13 sports drinks; results revealed varying levels of acidity among different flavors of the same brands as well as among different brands. Among sports drinks, the highest acidity levels were found in Gatorade Blue followed by Hydr8. Among energy drinks, Red Bull Sugarfree tested highest, followed by Monster Assault, 5-hour Energy, Von Dutch, and then Rockstar. MDX tested lowest in acidity levels.
To test the effects of the varying levels of acidity on enamel, the researchers took samples from extracted human teeth and soaked them for 15 minutes in three energy drinks and three sports drinks after which the samples were immersed for two hours in artificial saliva. The procedure was repeated using fresh batches of the beverages four times a day for five consecutive days. The frequency of immersion in the beverages is supposed to mirror the frequency that most teens and young adults drink the beverages.
Jain and her team tested the energy drinks Monster Assault, Red Bull, and 5-hour Energy; for the sports drinks, they used Gatorade Rain, Powerade Option, and Propel Grape.
After five days of exposure to the sports drinks, about 1.5 percent of enamel loss was observed while the average enamel loss after immersion in the energy drinks was more than three percent.
In a statement released by the ABA, they said a combination of different factors contribute to enamel loss and tooth decay, including total diet, lifestyle, personal hygiene, and genetic makeup; singling out just one factor, such as drinking the said beverages, is “irresponsible.” Additionally, the length of enamel exposure and number of drinks a day that were simulated in the study were not realistic. “People do not keep any kind of liquid in their mouths for 15-minute intervals over five-day periods,” they said in the statement.
But Jain maintains that their findings indicate that drinking just one of these beverages can cause potential harm. Jain’s advice to those who don’t want to give up drinking these beverages is to keep the habit to a minimum. She also says it will help if the consumer rinses their mouth with water afterwards; brushing the teeth should also be avoided for at least an hour after drinking the beverage to also avoid spreading the acid around in the mouth.