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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.
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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.

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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.

In certain situations, the benefits of using sports drinks outweigh their potential harm on teens' teeth. For young athletes who partake in routine, intense exercise with few or no breaks, sports drinks can be beneficial. They help supply nutrients and replenish fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat. But for moderate, daily workouts, drinking water and a maintaining balanced diet will usually suffice.

Sports drinks contain high amounts of sugar (often labeled as carbohydrates). Drinking these beverages on a regular basis not only adds calories to the diet, it can also throw off a growing teen's ability to balance sugars, proteins and fats -- and that can lead to becoming overweight or obese [source: American Academy of Pediatrics]. Since the body pulls glucose from muscles for energy during intense exercise, there are benefits to sports drinks -- calories and electrolytes. But unless these nutrients and energy are needed, sports drinks aren't significantly better than water and may even have an adverse effect on blood sugar levels. For instance, allowing teens to have sports drinks at day-long soccer tournaments is suitable, but drinking them daily while watching TV is not. The idea is that sports drinks are appropriate during intense workouts, when the body needs calories.

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Habits, hygiene and diet play the largest role in sports drinks' impact on teeth. Low-calorie sports drinks, which usually have little or no real sugar, may be an alternative for teens hooked on having a sports drink often. It's a good idea to ask a doctor about whether low-calorie drinks are better for your teen. Checking with your teen's dentist about drinks that reduce the risk of enamel erosion is a good start, too.

To combat the negative effects of sugary beverages, including sports drinks:

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Brush, floss and rinse teeth regularly (especially after meals)
  • Schedule routine dental checkups to address problems
  • Rinse mouth with water after consuming sports drinks
  • Use sugar-free chewing gums recommended by your dentist after consuming sports drinks (and meals)
  • Set guidelines for the number of sports drinks your teen should consume
  • Don't be afraid to ask doctors and dentists for help

For more information about sports drinks and teens' dental health, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. "Clinical Report -- Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?" Pediatrics. 127, 6. 1182-1189. 2011 (Aug. 11, 2011) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/05/25/peds.2011-0965.full.pdf
  • Environmental Nutrition. "Drinking Too Many Sports Drinks Isn't Anything to Smile About." Environmental Nutrition Newsletter. August 1997 (Aug. 11, 2011) http://www.environmentalnutrition.com/issues/20_8/youshouldknow/149799-1.html
  • KidsHealth. "Carbohydrates, Sugar and Your Child." KidsHealth.org. June 2011 (Aug. 11, 2011) http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/sugar.html
  • Murray, Robert. "Letters to the Editor." British Journal of Sports Medicine. 31. 352-354. 1997.
  • Ranjit, Nalini, Evans, Martin, Byrd-Williams, Courtney, Evans, Alexandra, & Hoelscher, Deanna. "Dietary and Activity Correlates of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Among Adolescents." Pediatrics. 126, 4. e754-e761. 2010 (Aug. 17, 2011) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/09/27/peds.2010-1229.abstract?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Dietary+and+Activity+Correlates+of+Sugar-Sweetened+Beverage+Consumption+Among+Adolescents&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT
  • Rees, J., Loyn, T., & McAndrew, R. "The Acidic and Erosive Potential of Five Sports Drinks." The European Journal of Prosthodontics and Restorative Dentistry. 13, 4. 186-190. 2005 (Aug. 11, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16411577
  • Steakley, Lisa. "Are Sports Drinks Healthier than Sodas? Study Shows Teens Think So." Scope, Stanford School of Medicine. Sept. 27, 2010 (Aug. 17, 2011) http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2010/09/are_sports_drin/
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label." March 11, 2011 (Aug. 18, 2011) http://www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/consumerinformation/ucm078889.htm
  • Von Fraunhofer, J. & Rogers, M. "Effects of Sports Drinks on Dental Enamel." General Dentistry. 53, 1. 28-31. 2005. (Aug. 17, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15779219

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