May 3, 2012 -- Energy and sports drinks can damage tooth enamel, boosting the risk of cavities, according to a new study.
"The big misconception is that energy drinks and sports drinks are healthier than soda for oral health," says researcher Poonam Jain, BDS, MPH, associate professor and director of community dentistry at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.
"This study completely disproves that, because they erode or thin out the enamel of the teeth, leaving them more susceptible to decay and sensitivity."
The American Beverage Association takes issue with the study, says Tracey Halliday, a spokesperson. An ABA statement reads, in part: "This study was not conducted on humans and in no way mirrors reality."
Jain and her team tested 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks for acidity. They tested six drinks for their effects on tooth enamel and found both types caused damage. Energy drinks, however, were twice as bad. Damaged tooth enamel cannot be fixed.
The study is published in the journal General Dentistry.
Sports Drinks, Energy Drinks, and Teeth: Study Details
The drinks are especially popular among teens and young adults. Up to half of U.S. teens and young adults drink energy drinks, and more than half have at least one sports drink a day, according to the researchers.
They tested the acidity levels of all 22 drinks. They found the levels of acidity in the drinks vary between brands and between flavors of the same brands.
Gatorade Blue had the highest acidity among sports drinks. Next was Hydr8.
Among the energy drinks with the highest acidity:
- Red Bull Sugarfree
- Monster Assault
- 5-hour Energy
- Von Dutch
MDX had the lowest acidity of the energy drinks.
Energy Drinks, Sports Drinks, and Tooth Enamel
Jain's team immersed enamel samples from extracted human teeth into three sports drinks and three energy drinks.
The sports drinks tested were:
- Gatorade Rain
- Powerade Option
- Propel Grape
The energy drinks tested were:
- Monster Assault
- Red Bull
- 5-hour Energy
The enamel samples were immersed in the drinks for 15 minutes. The researchers transferred the enamel to artificial saliva for two hours.
This cycle was repeated four times a day for five days. The beverages were replaced with fresh ones every day.
The cycle was meant to simulate real life, Jain says, as some teens and young adults drink the beverages every few hours.
Enamel loss was evident after five days of exposure, Jain says.
The average enamel lost with sports drinks was about 1.5%, while the average loss with energy drinks was more than 3%. Jain says she cannot pinpoint what percent of enamel loss would cause problems.
Industry Response Continued
According to ABA, the four drinks a day simulated by the study is above average. So, too, is the length of time the enamel was exposed. "People do not keep any kind of liquid in their mouths for 15-minute intervals over five day periods," the statement says.
"Furthermore, it is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages, or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay."
Susceptibility to dental problems depends on personal hygiene, lifestyle, total diet, and genetic makeup, according to the ABA.
ABA member companies agree not to offer energy drinks for sale in grades K through 12, and to offer calorie-capped sports drinks in containers of 12 ounces or less only to high schools.
Spokespeople from Gatorade and Powerade referred WebMD requests for comments on the study to the American Beverage Association.
Elaine Lutz, a spokesperson for 5-hour Energy, also released a statement in response to the study: "This report is wholly irrelevant to 5-hour Energy because our product is an energy shot, not an energy drink."
The volume in the product, she says, is eight times less than what is found in other energy drinks. For that reason and others, she says, the results would not apply. The product is marketed only to adults, she says.
Advice for Sports, Energy Drink Fans
Even one drink a day is potentially harmful, Jain says.
"If the consumer is absolutely unable to give them up, the best advice is to minimize [their use] and rinse with water afterwards," she says.
"Dilute them," she says. Do not brush immediately after drinking them, she says, as this could spread around the acid. "The mouth takes about 30 minutes to bring the pH back to normal."
Wait an hour after drinking the sports or energy drink, to be safe, then brush, Jain says.