Are sports drinks bad for your teen's teeth?

Think that sports drink is better for you than water? Think again.
Think that sports drink is better for you than water? Think again.

Before every practice, your teen tells you she buys a sports drink from her school's vending machine. If the goal is to stay hydrated during exercise, the beverage will surely do the trick. But are these drinks any better on your adolescent's teeth than other sugary alternatives?

Like most foods and beverages, sports drinks should be consumed in moderation. However, determining whether they contribute to poor oral hygiene depends on many factors -- including whatever else your teens eat and how well they care for their teeth.

Some teens falsely believe sports drinks are healthier than water. They also may think the drinks enhance athletic performance and rehydration [source: Ranjit et al.]. Though there's a time and place for sports drinks, the idea that they're better than water isn't true in most circumstances. In fact, sports drinks can contribute to tooth decay and enamel erosion, both of which increase the frequency -- and most likely the cost -- of dental visits.

Pediatricians and doctors say sports drinks are inappropriate unless adolescents are participating in repetitive, vigorous sports or exercise. The drinks can be high in sugar and citric acid, which can damage teeth [source: Rees et al.]. Though sugar usually takes the blame for adding more calories and contributing to cavities, it's been speculated the drinks' acidic nature is also problematic, since it weakens enamel and lessens a tooth's ability to fend off sugar [source: Environmental Nutrition]. But recently, research on the topic reveals there's not a strong relationship between enamel issues and pH (what scientists use to measure acidity) [source: von Fraunhofer & Rogers]. Even so, sports drinks still appear to be more erosive on enamel than sodas.

But before you begin blaming sports drinks for your teen's cavities, keep in mind other beverages such as juices and coffee drinks that can also erode enamelor contain excessive sugar. It's also important to differentiate sports drinks from energy drinks, which usually have caffeine in them and are not suitable for teens.

Whether sports drinks are bad for teens' teeth depends on how often they consume the beverages and other factors, too -- including diet, activity levels, hygiene, genetic background and even environmental influences such as stress. Some researchers speculate having too little saliva in the mouth -- a sign of dehydration -- lowers enamel's ability to protect teeth during exercise [source: Murray].

So when are sports drinks OK to consume, and how can you limit dental problems associated with the beverages?

Click to the following page to read what pediatricians suggest.