Dentists are warning that the high acidity levels in popular sports and energy drinks can cause irreversible damage to teeth by eroding outer tooth enamel, according to a new study that also found an alarming increase in the consumption of these teeth-damaging drinks, especially among adolescents.
"Young adults consume these drinks assuming that they will improve their sports performance and energy levels and that they are 'better' for them than soda," lead researcher Dr. Poonam Jain, from Southern Illinois University, said in a news release.
"Most of these patients are shocked to learn that these drinks are essentially bathing their teeth with acid," Jain said.
Researchers analyzed the acidity levels in 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks and found that acidity levels varied widely between brands as well as flavors of the same brand.
Scientists tested the effect of the acidity levels by submerging samples of human tooth enamel in each beverage for 15 minutes and then dipping the enamel samples in artificial saliva for two hours. The process was repeated four times a day for five days, and enamel samples were stored in fresh artificial saliva all other times.
Researcher said that the experiment was meant to simulate the way sports and energy drinks affect teeth in teens and young adults who sometimes drink one of these beverages several times a day.
Researchers from the study, published in the Academy of General Dentistry, found that in some cases damage to enamel was evident after only five days of exposure to sports or energy drinks, and energy drinks caused twice as much damage to teeth compared to sports drinks.
Researchers said that a reported 30 to 50 percent of U.S. teens consume energy drinks and 62 percent drink at least one sports drink a day. They say it is important to advise parents and young adults about the disadvantages and harms of these drinks.
Tooth enamel damage is permanent, and without the protection of the glossy outer enamel, teeth become overly sensitive and are more prone to cavities and more likely to decay, according to experts.
“Teens regularly come into my office with these types of symptoms, but they don't know why," Academy of General Dentistry spokesman Jennifer Bone said in a statement.
"We review their diet and snacking habits and then we discuss their consumption of these beverages. They don't realize that something as seemingly harmless as a sports or energy drink can do a lot of damage to their teeth," she added.
Dentists recommend that patients limit their intake of sports and energy drinks and advise people to chew sugar-free gum or rinse their mouth with water after drinking the beverages.
"Both tactics increase saliva flow, which naturally helps to return the acidity levels in the mouth to normal," Bone said.
Patients should also wait at least an hour before they brush their teeth after drinking sports and energy drinks, or else the acid from the beverages will spread onto tooth surfaces and amplify the erosive action.