Is Red Bull four times worse for your teeth than Gatorade?
Nearly every day, I get questions from patients in practice about the effects of diet on dental caries (a.k.a teeth cavities). I can’t think of an instance in all my years as a dentist when a patient was not aware of the relationship between sugar intake and tooth decay. Nearly all patients are aware of the harmful effects of regular soda on their teeth. Many patients ask me if diet soda is better than regular soda (it is only marginally better and still very destructive – that will be addressed in another blog post). But very few patients have ever asked me about sports drinks and energy drinks and the effects on their teeth.
Sports drinks became first commercially available in the late 1960s after the University of Florida’s athletic teams achieved improved performance after consuming a beverage with high concentrations of carbohydrates and electrolytes. The electrolytes include potassium, sodium, and others lost during rigorous physical exercise. Not surprisingly, sports drinks such as Gatorade include large amounts of sugar designed to fuel the athlete.
Energy drinks came to the United States in the late 1990s but did not become popular until approximately 10 years later when large marketing campaigns were launched around these beverages. Energy drinks contain significant quantities of caffeine in addition to sugar. They are being marketed not just for athletic performance but also for other uses including weight loss, stamina, and concentration. Energy drinks are frequently associated with the “toxic jock identity” in adolescent males. Like sports drinks, they are very acidic.
Like it or not, sports and energy drinks are very popular in the United States. One study showed that 30% – 50% of adolescents and young adults in the U.S. consume energy drinks regularly. Marketing for the various brands such as Gatorade, Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy, Powerade, and others ensure that the names are becoming nearly ubiquitous. Just recently, Red Bull sponsored Felix Baumgartner’s free fall record as chronicled in this article. I routinely see patients in this age demographic consuming energy drinks. I suspect many readers of this blog consume these drinks as well.
So what does all of this mean with respect to dental care, teeth and cavities? The short answer is that both sports and energy drinks have destructive effects similar to sugary soda (Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, etc.). This is because of the high sugar content in the drinks as well as the acidity. Acidic foods and drinks dissolve the protective enamel coating on all teeth, weakening them and making them susceptible to decay. Sugars are used by specific bacteria (S. Mutans, as seen in this recent blog post) as food. When these specific bacteria consume the sugar, they produce acids that cause cavities.
So this brings us to the big question, which is:
Energy drinks vs. Sports drinks: which are worse for your teeth?
Energy drinks are on average four times worse for your teeth than Sports drinks. This is based on a research paper by the Academy of General Dentistry. I won’t go into the fine details of how the researchers reached their conclusion. But on average, energy drinks require four times the amount of “dilution” from saliva to get your mouth back to normal. Or stated another way, your oral cavity has to work four times harder and longer to neutralize the teeth destroying effects of an energy drink than it does for a sports drink!
Tips on reducing teeth cavities from Sports and Energy Drinks:
- Minimize your consumption of them.
- Do not brush your teeth directly after consuming one as your brushing action will wear away the weakened enamel.
- Attempt to either rinse your mouth out with water or drink milk directly after. The milk will help to neutralize the acidic effects of the drink.
- Do not sip one throughout the day. You will be bathing your teeth in a constant supply of acid and sugar. If you are going to drink sports and energy drinks it is best to drink them more rapidly. However, consumption of highly-caffeinated energy drinks quickly can lead to very high blood levels of caffeine with possible fatal side effects. Just another reason to avoid them!
Like it or not, sports and energy drinks are here to stay. Whether you are a dentist in Orange, CT like me or work in another health profession or are a frequent consumer of these beverages, you should be aware of the risks to not only your teeth but also your overall health. With proper knowledge, you can consume them sensibly and safely.