If you like Rock Star and Red Bull, a recent study on energy drinks and teeth may convert you to water. It’s not the sugar that threatens your dental health. Researchers found that energy drinks give your teeth a corrosive acid bath that no amount of brushing will neutralize.
Addicted to energy drinks
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, 30 to 50 percent of U.S. teens consume energy drinks. About 62 percent consume at least one sports drink per day. The academy’s journal, “General Dentistry,” recently published a study concluding that the surge in sports and energy drink consumption is inflicting irreversible damage to teeth.
Citric acid enamel stripper
Everyone knows that sugar will rot your teeth. But when it comes to sports and energy drinks, citric acid is the culprit. Citric acid is used as a preservative that enhances flavor and shelf life. It also appears to be very effective at stripping away tooth enamel. Once the enamel is gone, it will never come back, leaving teeth more prone to cavities and decay.
“Teens regularly come into my office with these types of symptoms, but they don’t know why,” says AGD spokesperson Jennifer Bone, DDS, MAGD. “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.”
Assessing the damage
AGD researchers analyzed 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks for fluoride levels, pH and “titratable acidity,” which is a measure of how long it takes saliva to neutralize acid. Titratable acidity levels varied widely between brands and flavors of the same brand.
To measure how much enamel the drinks stripped from teeth, researchers immersed cross sections of extracted molars in a petri dish with the beverages for 15 minutes, followed by immersion in an artificial saliva solution for two hours. The cycle was repeated four times a day for five days to simulate the exposure of teeth in someone drinking one of these beverages every few hours. Teeth lost enamel with exposure to both kinds of drinks, but energy drinks did more damage than sports drinks.
Beverage industry responds
Upon hearing of the study, American Beverage Association spin doctors sprang into action.
“It is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay (dental caries or cavities),” the ABA said in a statement. “Science tells us that individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person’s dental hygiene behavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up.”
The ABA also said petri dishes could not mimic the human mouth, where saliva helps neutralize acidity. The amount of citric acid in a drink isn’t something beverage companies have to put the label. But in addition to eroding teeth, consuming a lot of citric acid can lead to loss of bone mass and kidney stones.
The AGC’s Bone said if you can’t live without your Gatorade or Red Bull, chew sugar-free gum or rinse your month with water after drinking them—and wait at least an hour before you brush, or you will rub the acid on your teeth like paint stripper.