Sports Drinks May Be Tough on Teeth

The jury is out on whether sports drinks are necessary, but there's no debating they're among the most popular beverages on the market.  The problem is, however, they're full of empty calories and unnecessary for most people who exercise. What's more, new study suggests sports drinks are also tough on our teeth. 

New York University College of Dentistry researchers say the citric acid (vitamin C) in sports drinks can damage tooth enamel.  As reported in an article in US News and World Report, "researchers cut cow's teeth in half and soaked them in top-selling sports drinks. After soaking for up to 90 minutes, which the researchers said simulated sipping on the drinks throughout the day, the enamel coating of the teeth was partially eaten away. This allowed the drinks to leak into the bonelike material underneath the enamel, causing the teeth to soften and weaken. [This] condition, called erosive tooth wear, can result in severe tooth damage and tooth loss, if not treated. This is the first time that the citric acid in sports drinks has been linked to erosive tooth wear," study leader Dr. Mark Wolff, chairman of cardiology and comprehensive care at the NYU College of Dentistry, said in a news release issued by the school.

In addition to identifying sports drinks as a contributor to tooth erosion, the researchers also determined that brushing immediately after drinking a sports drink might do more harm than good.  Softened tooth enamel is more vulnerable to the abrasiveness of toothpaste.  Their advice?  Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth to allow softened enamel to re-harden.

To drink or not to drink? Experts say to think twice before regularly downing sports drinks.  Most of us don't work out hard enough to require the nutrient replacement sports drinks provide.  Plus, they're loaded with calories. If you're working out to reduce weight, you're drinking unnecessary calories that may sabotage your goals.  Instead, rehydrate with water.  Some studies say milk is a good choice for replacing protein and nutrients lost through exercise.  The rule of thumb for whether you need a sports drink is:  If you're working out for more than 90 minutes at a moderate to high intensity (distance running or biking, for instance), a sports drink might be a good idea.  If not, don't bother.

But what if you do work out that hard?  The researchers say, "If you frequently consume sports drinks, ask your dentist if you should use an acid-neutralizing, re-mineralizing toothpaste to help re-harden soft enamel."