Sports Drinks and Your Teeth?

Are Sports Drinks Bad for Your Teeth?

You may see athletes in advertisements with sports drinks on the sidelines or taking a swig before a big game, even drinking as the run or cycle. How necessary is it and what can happen if you’re not careful?

What’s in those bottles of sports drinks , and are they good for your oral health?

What’s in those bottles, and are they good for your oral health?

Sports drinks can help keep you hydrated and replenish important minerals you lose when you sweat. Important providing you don’t over-hydrate.

But beyond the electrolytes and hydration, there are some ingredients that could damage your teeth.

Before reaching for your favourite sports drinks after your next workout, it’s best to know what’s in the bottle.

Below are the pros and cons of sports drinks and how they affect your oral health.

The Pros of Sports Drinks

Sports drinks can help replenish the water and other important minerals you lose when you sweat. And one of the main things you lose when you sweat are electrolytes.

Electrolytes help the muscles and nerves in your body stay balanced and run optimally. An intense workout can cause you to lose electrolytes through your sweat.

Too few electrolytes in your body can lead to dehydration, nerve spasms, and cause your body to cramp.

What’s in the Bottle?

Sports drinks often contain the 7 most common types of electrolytes that are vital to the body:

Book with glasses on it - link to article
  • Sodium (Na+)

  • Chloride (Cl-)

  • Potassium (K+)

  • Magnesium (Mg++)

  • Calcium (Ca++)

  • Phosphate (HPO4–)

  • Bicarbonate (HCO3-)

While replenishing these chemicals can be helpful, there are other ingredients in your sports drink that aren’t great for your oral health.

The Cons of Sports Drinks

When tested, results showed that most sports drinks contain high levels of sugar and acids, which can lead to cavities.

X rays showing cavities form between the teeth where its difficult to see them

Why are sports drinks high in sugar and acids?

Generally sugar is considered to be an immediate source of calorific energy and if you’re expending energy doing strenuous exercise, it makes sense to use a refined carbohydrate for immediate energy, right?

Using a refined carbohydrate for immediate energy

While for the trained athlete there may be some benefits to short-term performance there is always a price to pay in the longer term. Sugar was called “Pure White and Deadly” for a reason.

The electrolytes are minerals, as such they would settle out at the bottom of the bottle, so they have to be dissolved so that they can be either in solution or suspension at least. An acidic solution will allow this, the problem is that acids tend not to be so great for your teeth and if you do a lot of exercise (as people seem to do these days) it can be a problem.

I’ve seen serious decay in athletes with impeccably well kept mouth. Surprising isn’t it. These are the people that a dentist may be inclined not to check or take x-rays. If you get sensitivity and your using commercial hydration drinks, get your dentist to check your teeth.

Further in lab studies confirmed that sports drinks can be so acidic, they can corrode your tooth enamel down to the dentin, which is the layer beneath your enamel, so its not just me being paranoid.

Sports Drinks and Your Oral Health

It becomes “double trouble” when the acid in sports drinks makes your teeth more vulnerable to bacteria, which feeds off the excess sugar in these drinks.

cartoon of a molar tooth with a star shaped hole - decay

The softening of your tooth dentin also makes your teeth more susceptible to stains — from both the bright coloured dye in sports drinks and other staining drinks like wine and tea. (Not that wine and tea should be drunk during a marathon, unless you’re British – just kidding).

Can you protect your teeth from sports drinks?

Although sports drinks aren’t great for your teeth, you may not experience much damage to your oral health if you enjoy them in moderation.

Here’s what you can do to protect your teeth while still enjoying the occasional sports drink after a workout:

  • Sip slowly to let your saliva neutralize the acid of the drink.

  • Rinse your teeth with plain water or mouthwash once you’re finished.

  • Wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth — this keeps you from spreading the acid across your teeth and increasing your chance of tooth decay.

  • Use a straw if possible to keep the sports drink from coming into contact with your teeth.

Are there tooth-friendly alternatives to sports drinks?

Besides sports drinks, there are of course other options for replenishing important chemicals and staying hydrated post-workout. Bananas, watermelon juice and coconut water have all been identified as lower-sugar alternatives to sports drinks.

These drinks and snacks help rehydrate your muscles and decrease your risk of soreness the next day, without the acid and supplemental sugar of sports drinks.

At the end of the day, water is the most natural and healthy hydrating drink that supports your muscles, nerves, and every other system in your body. Plus, water is great for your oral health, too. Just don’t over-hydrate and if you choose to use a sports drink look at its content and do a little research first – don’t just turn to one automatically.

Drinking too much – water?

Dr Stephen Bray 2019

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