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Think Before You Drink

Sports And Energy Beverages Bathe Teeth In Erosive Acids

By Dr. Poonam Jain


The Truth Hurts

In summary, the data from our study indicate that energy drinks have significantly greater potential to dissolve tooth enamel than sports drinks, but both sports and energy drinks are highly erosive and can significantly damage teeth. These results offer compelling evidence that sports and energy drinks are comparable to soda in terms of their acidity and their potential to harm tooth enamel.

When our study was first published in General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry, the trade group that represents beverage manufacturers tried to dismiss it as unrealistic. After all, they said, no one holds a drink in their mouth for 15 minutes at a time, so how can this be applied to real life?

Here's how: a single sip of any drink, especially highly acidic ones such as sodas, sports and energy drinks, reduces the pH of the mouth to levels much lower than 5.5 (the critical pH below which enamel starts demineralizing) — for at least 30 minutes!

If anything, you could say that our study was conservative in estimating the effects sports and energy drinks have on tooth enamel. We simulated actual consumption of drinks for just five days. Yet after this very short period of time, exposure to both sports drinks and energy drinks resulted in considerable enamel loss. Just imagine the effects on a person who consumes these beverages daily, for weeks, months, even years on end. That's why it's so important to think — before you drink!

It's Not Just About Teeth — Energy Drinks Raise Other Health Concerns

Would you let your 11-year-old chug four sodas at one time? Probably not — we hope. Yet a child who buys a bottle or even a two-ounce “shot” of a so-called energy drink — available for purchase wherever soft drinks are sold — may be getting the equivalent amount of caffeine. We say “may be” because the amount is usually not printed on the label; it's not required to be. That's because manufacturers of energy drinks label these highly caffeinated beverages as “dietary supplements.” As such, they are not subject to the same caffeine limits and labeling requirements as soda is.

Recently, Consumer Reports magazine tested 27 energy drinks to find out the levels of caffeine in each. They found amounts ranging from 6 milligrams to 242 milligrams per serving. Some servings were as little as 2 ounces, and some bottles contained multiple servings. In comparison, soda is required to be no more than .02% caffeine (200 parts per million). This translates to approximately 35-50 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce can.

The Consumer Reports article (Dec. 2012 issue) also lists the sugar content of these drinks. Several of the most popular brands had 27-31 grams of sugar in just one 8-ounce serving — roughly the same amount as in a 12-oz can of soda. One had as much as 58 grams per 8-ounce serving, or about 14 teaspoons!

Meanwhile, energy drinks were associated with more than 13,000 emergency room visits in 2009 according to a federal report.* During that same period of time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received reports of 13 deaths that cited the possible involvement of a popular energy “shot” and five more that cited another widely consumed energy beverage.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can affect blood pressure, heart rate, and brain function. It is particularly dangerous to kids who have preexisting heart conditions or mood/behavioral disorders. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised all pediatricians to tell kids and their parents that energy drinks “are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed.” (Pediatrics Vol. 127 No. 6 June 1, 2011 pp. 1182-1189.)