Sports Drinks: Good for Your Workout, but What About Your Teeth?
Fitness-minded folks are everywhere these days, and the manufacturers of sports drinks are beaming. Sales of sports drinks topped $320 million in Australia during 2010, and with an annual growth rate of 20% this trend shows no sign of stopping. Sports drinks are beverages that help athletes and other active folks replenish the fluids their bodies have lost from exercise. As the climate gets warmer and the workouts become more prolonged (anyone training for a marathon?), sweating grows more intense and so does the urge to slurp down another sweet-tart sports ‘quencher’.
All of this is good news for anyone who owns stock in the sports-drink industry. But what do dentists think about this trend? Well, because sports drinks can be nearly as corrosive to the teeth as, say, battery acid, it means more patients needing dental care. While we’re always happy to fill our office hours, we’d rather do it keeping healthy teeth healthy! So let’s take another look at those sports and soft drinks, the trouble they might cause for your teeth, and how to prevent it.
What’s in that Hydration Solution
The water an athlete loses by sweating during exercise can be replaced by … water. Sports drinks go the extra distance by adding minerals, salts and carbohydrates (through sugar), to the blend. Athletes believe these formulas help replace the electrolytes (salts that can conduct an electrical charge within the body’s cells) lost due to heavy sweating. There are claims that some very active exercisers who drink only water may be risking a state called ‘water intoxication’ by not replacing these minerals and salts. If they drink only water this dilutes the concentration of electrolytes in their system. Although extremely rare it is a potentially fatal condition and there are reports of it occurring with hikers on the Kokoda track.
The sugar and carbs found in sports drinks add calories and provide fuel for muscles. This in turn helps prevent fatigue and boosts stamina – important to endurance athletes such as marathon runners and triathlon competitors. People who train with weights find sports drinks helpful in building up their muscles. When these athletes eat protein foods with their post-workout meal, the carbs boost the body’s insulin output and this in turn encourages the muscles to take in more amino acids from the protein.
The Solution is the Culprit
This all great for the body’s strength and fitness – but what about the teeth? The typical sports drink is ‘isotonic’, meaning it contains sugar and salt in similar concentrations to those found in the human body. A single, 250-ml serving of isotonic sports drink contains 13-19 grams of sugar. That’s about 4 or 5 heaping spoonfuls! Sports drinks also contain citric and phosphoric acids – the same ingredients in soft drinks and colas that help can wear down your teeth. In this regard, sports drinks and soft drinks are so similar, we might as well call them both ‘acid-sugar drinks’!
Sugars and food acids are just bad for your teeth. Sugars and carbs fuel your body, which is something we all need, but they also feed the bacteria that live in your mouth and cause tooth decay. These bacteria turn the sugar into waste products, which are acids, and that eats holes into the enamel tooth surface, forming cavities. Let cavities develop, and sooner or later your dentist is going to have to ‘drill and fill’ to fix it. If too many cavities develop, or grow to the point where you have ‘more cavity than tooth’, then you end up losing the tooth and looking at restoration alternatives.
Acids in food, especially beverages, wear down the teeth by direct chemical action. Acids are known for dissolving things, and tooth enamel dissolves quite nicely in an acid bath, thank you. In one study carried out in the U.S., researchers compared samples of cow’s teeth that had been soaked in water and in various brands of sports drinks. The teeth were soaked in the liquids for 75-90 minutes – a time period chosen to simulate the effects of sipping on sports drink throughout the day. When examined after this soaking, the teeth that had been dunked in water remained strong and smooth, showing little or no change, but the teeth that were bathed in sports beverage were covered with small pits – in a close-up photo, the tooth surface looked like the skin of an orange, – and showed a noticeable amount of erosion and softening. Teeth exposed this kind of acid-induced softening can literally wear down to nubs if left untreated.
Better Hydration Habits for Better Teeth
We get that you probably aren’t going to soak your teeth for 90 minutes at a time in a sports or soft drink, like the sample teeth in this study. But the way in which sports drinks are commonly consumed adds insult to injury by prolonging your teeth’s exposure to the acids and sugars. During exercise the mouth also becomes dehydrated and therefore less able to neutralise the acids contained in the drink. The distinctive flavour of most sports drinks seems to have been designed to increase thirst, not to quench it, so you’ll drink greater quantities for longer periods. This is helpful for the athlete who needs to push through the last mile of a marathon, but it seems like overkill for those of us whose main exercise is walking from our car to the shops! We aren’t saying to quit these beverages entirely, but making a few simple changes in the way in which you consume them will help you protect your teeth:
- Drink sports and soft drinks moderately; avoid sipping on them constantly throughout the day.
- If drinking during exercise alternate with sips of water to flush out the acid from your mouth.
- Drink with a straw whenever possible. This will direct the beverage away from your teeth and reduce your overall exposure to the acids and sugars.
- Give yourself a break of an hour or so between drinks to let your saliva wash away and neutralize the acids and sugars and help ‘re-strengthen’ your teeth ready for the next attack.
- Use a soft toothbrush, and avoid brushing your teeth for at least 30 minutes after you finish your drink. Brushing too soon can wear away the softened enamel.
Signs of tooth decay include increased sensitivity to heat, cold, or sugars. Changes in colour and shape of the teeth may also occur. If you see any of these signs, please make an appointment for a check-up and evaluation. It’s much easier to correct and restore worn-out teeth when the erosion is detected sooner, rather than later. Here at Bite Dental we want all of our sports enthusiasts to have a winning smile at the finish line!
The Damage Caused to Your Teeth By Sports Drinks
There is no question that sodas and other sweetened drinks can taste better than water. If you purchase prepared drinks, you may not realize that they contain acids, sugars and other ingredients that will harm your teeth. While the enamel on your teeth can resist many different chemicals, the ones found in soft drinks and sports drinks can actually erode it to the point where you will experience all kinds of problems. These include cavities or holes in your teeth, sensitive teeth and even infections if the damage occurs on certain parts of the tooth.
Some Ways That Sports Drinks Damage Your Teeth
Sports drinks can cause damage to your teeth in two basic ways. First, the sugars found in these beverages will provide plenty of food for plaque and other bacteria that will get under the gums and in between your teeth. This can lead to gum disease, as well as create a situation where holes may progress until you may need tooth extraction and dental implants.
Many people today do not realize that sports drinks also include a number of acidic preservatives. These chemicals will remain on your teeth and steadily eat away at the enamel. Depending on the number of sports drinks that you consume and your lifestyle, you may wind up with a large number of dental problems long before you were expecting them.
What Happens After Exercise?
If you enjoy sporting activities, working out or engage in other robust physical actions, your teeth will suffer even more if you consume sports drinks. It is important to realize that these activities can all cause you to lose water through sweat. Since your mouth tends to be a fairly moist environment, you may think that anything which quenches your thirst will also restore the balance to this part of your body. Unfortunately, when you consume sports drinks, the acid will become more concentrated on your teeth. If you become dehydrated, it will also take longer for the acids to flush out of your mouth.
Avoiding Dental Decay from Sports and Soft Drinks
Typically, it would be wise to cut back on soft drinks as much as possible or switch to versions that cause less damage. You can however minimise the risk by immediately rinsing your mouth out with water or alternating sports drinks with water during exercise. It is also important to make sure that your children avoid these beverages as much as possible as their teeth are softer than adults and are therefore more at risk.
If you are concerned about oral health, you should always ensure that routine dental exams include an assessment of the enamel coating each tooth. When you visit Bite Dental Studios, we always provide this service during our dental check ups. At the very least, if you consume soft drinks, you will have a chance to prevent this habit from having a serious impact on your dental health.