It’s a fact: beverages high in sugar, like sodas and juices, can cause cavities.
To cut down on soda and juice consumption, many have turned to sports drinks or other flavored water products. We live in an active era. There is a lot of emphasis on staying hydrated and maintaining electrolyte balance, but are these beverages really any better for our teeth?
It’s a myth that sports drinks will not cause tooth decay. While some argue that there is little to no sugar content in sports drinks like Gatorade or PowerAde, there is more to consider than just the sugar content.
The tooth decay process starts when your mouth’s pH balance is lowered into an acidic state. In order for your enamel to be at its strongest, your mouth should have a neutral pH balance. Anytime that your mouth’s pH drops below neutral, into an acidic state, your enamel is weakened and more vulnerable to the bacterium in your mouth and the decay process.
Sugary drinks will put your mouth into an acidic state due to the sugar – so, too, will drinks that have acids in them, despite not having sugar. Sports drinks are a prime example of such a beverage. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association: “High titratable acidity in sports drinks is a significant predictor of enamel dissolution.” If you follow that link, it discusses studies with findings that support the fact that these acids have damaging effects to the tooth enamel regardless of the presence of sugar.
But, what if you’re an athlete and you need to have that quick replacement of electrolytes? Well, as we mentioned earlier, it’s the lowering of your mouth’s pH balance that is a primary concern when it comes to sports drinks. Once you take a sip the balance is lowered, but once you stop drinking the balance can start to rise and be brought back to normal.
The biggest danger is when you slowly sip on the sports drink (or any acidic beverage, really) over the course of hours. This drinking pattern does not allow your mouth’s pH balance to return to neutral for hours and puts your teeth in a susceptible environment for a prolonged period. This increases the changes for demineralization and tooth decay. If you must have a quick boost of electrolytes after a vigorous workout or training session, drink your sports drink quickly and in one sitting within a few minutes and then drink water right afterwards to help neutralize your mouth again. Drink only water during the workout.
Flavored and Vitamin Waters
There are hidden dangers in flavored and vitamin waters as well. Just because the word “vitamin” is in the name, does not necessarily mean that there are no negative effects associated with the beverage. Again, we consider the acidic component of the beverage. In contrast to sports drinks, most vitamin waters contain sugars or artificial sugars. Both of these ingredients lower your mouth’s pH into an acidic state and place your teeth in a vulnerable state. There are no benefits to drinking vitamin waters that drinking regular water will not give you.
When choosing a beverage, be aware of all the ingredients, not just sugar content. Look for the different acids listed and for any artificial sugars, knowing the damaging effects that these can have on your teeth. Remember that prolonged exposure to these beverages is additionally dangerous to your teeth and that if you must have the quick electrolyte replacement in a sports drinks, drink it quickly and then have water directly afterwards.
Today, there are so many drink choices – all promising healthy results and great taste; however, there is truly no substitute for good, old-fashioned water. Nothing will rehydrate you and benefit all body systems as much as water.
Chelsea Brooks is a dental hygienist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.