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.
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.