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Monday, June 4, 2012

Ditch the energy drinks to save your teeth

Poonam Jain of the Southern Illinois School of Dental Medicine and her colleagues have bad news for energy drink consumers. These acidic beverages may be dissolving your tooth enamel. Sports drinks are also not great for teeth, but not nearly as bad.

Many people lump sports and energy drinks together, but they’re actually somewhat different. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes. They were originally formulated in the ‘60’s to combat the dehydration and electrolyte loss that is associated with intense physical exercise. Energy drinks also have carbohydrates, but add caffeine, often in high and unregulated amounts. Developed within the last few decades, energy drinks purport not only to improve physical stamina and performance, but also to affect weight loss and mental concentration.

For this study, the researchers used 13 popular name brand sports drinks and 9 popular energy drinks. Three samples of each product were tested for fluoride levels, pH and titratable acidity (the amount of sodium hydroxide required to neutralize a solution). Titratable acidity (TA) indicates how difficult it is to make a solution lose its acidity.

Three of each type of drink (sports--Gatorade Rain, Powerade Option, and Propel Grape and energy--Monster Assault, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy) were used to test enamel dissolution. Slivers of enamel from extracted teeth were alternately immersed in one of the drinks for 15 minutes and then in artificial saliva for two hours, four times each day for five days. The enamel was stored in fresh artificial saliva between trials and fresh energy/sports drinks were used each day.

Both types of drinks had much lower fluoride levels than the recommendation for drinking water. Both types of drinks had pH levels well below that at which enamel begins to demineralize (though sports drinks tended to be lower than energy drinks).

The greatest difference between the types of drinks was in TA. Sports drinks had an average TA of 3.6, but energy drinks had a TA of 11.8. This difference was correlated with the enamel dissolution tests. After five days of cycling through drinks and saliva, the enamel in the sports drinks had lost 1.5% by weight, and the enamel in the energy drinks had lost 3.1%.

To be clear, this does not necessarily replicate what goes on within a real person’s mouth. Frequency of drinking, duration of drinking and even difference in amount and composition of saliva all play roles in protecting or harming teeth. However, considering that the enamel loss occurred after only five days, I think it can safely be concluded that sports drinks are not good for teeth, and energy drinks are far worse.

Update 6/8/12: When I told a friend how energy drinks dissolve teeth, he suggested that people drink them through a straw. If you don't want to give these drinks up, why not use his great idea?