In a study published in the May/June issue of General Dentistry, researchers have looked for the first time at the effects of energy drinks on teeth. It turns out there’s often a lot of citric acid in the drinks.
Why? It’s a preservative that enhances flavor and shelf life. But it also happens to be very good at stripping enamel from teeth.
Dentists are especially worried about teens — 30 to 50 percent of whom are estimated to be gulping down energy drinks — losing enamel because once it’s gone teeth are more prone to cavities, and more likely to decay.
“We are well aware of the damage that sugar does in the mouth and in the whole body — the role it can play in obesity, diabetes, etc,” says Poonam Jain, an associate professor in the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and the lead author of the study. “But the average consumer is not very well aware that acid does all kinds of damage, too.”
To measure just how energy and sports drinks affect teeth, the researchers looked at the fluoride levels, pH, and something called “titratable acidity” of 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks, including Gatorade and Red Bull. That last data point, by the way, is all about how long it takes for saliva to neutralize acid in the mouth.
The researchers then measured how much enamel the drinks took off teeth, dousing sliced-up molars in a petri dish with the beverages for 15 minutes, followed by artificial saliva for two hours. The was repeated four times a day for five days.
The researchers found that teeth lost enamel with exposure to both kinds of drinks, but energy drinks took off a lot more enamel than sports drinks.
The precise amount of citric acid in a drink isn’t something beverage companies have to declare on the label. And the American Beverage Association says drinks can’t be blamed for damage to teeth.
“It is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay (dental caries or cavities),” the ABA said in a statement responding to Jain’s paper. “Science tells us that individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person’s dental hygiene behavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up.”
And, it should be said, previous research in the same journal showed that acids in citrus fruit juices (particularly lemon juice) can also erode the enamel on teeth.
Jain, the dental researcher, is concerned about health effects beyond cavities . She says consuming a lot of citric acid can lead to loss of bone mass and kidney stones. “This has become a big concern because people are drinking more of these drinks and less milk,” she says.
This dust-up over acid isn’t the first time, of course, that energy drinks have come under fire from health experts.
Last year, as we reported, the American Academy of Pediatrics said children should never drink caffeinated energy drinks out of concern about what high doses of caffeine can do to a young growing body that’s not fully mature.
From Dr Mercola:
side from their chronic use during athletic training, sports drinks are also a popular beverage choice during summer months.
Many believe they are necessary to restore your electrolyte balance duringexercise or other outdoor activities, but while the theory is sound, commercial sports drinks are anything but healthy.
Sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, and others) basically “work” because they contain high amounts of sodium (processed salt), and other electrolytes, which are meant to replenish the electrolytes you lose while sweating. However, this processed salt is by no means ideal. (Below I’ll discuss healthier alternatives.)
One of the primary problems with sports drinks is related to the high amounts of sugar these drinks contain. The leading brands of sports drinks typically contain as much as two-thirds the amount of sugar found in sodas and many contain far more. They also contain processed high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and/orartificial sweeteners.
Sugar, as you probably know, is the enemy when it comes to maintaining optimal dental health. It’s very difficult to maintain caries-free teeth if you’re consuming high amounts of sugar, as sugar feeds bacteria that produce tooth decay and gum disease.
Previous research has also shown that sports drinks are up to 30 times more erosive to your teeth than water, courtesy of the corrosive activity of phosphoric or citric acid. Brushing your teeth won’t help because the citric acid in the sports drink will soften your tooth enamel so much it could be damaged by brushing.