Sodas and Sports Beverages Can Cause Irreversible Damage to Teeth

In warmer months, few people can resist an ice-cold cola. Even after a long hard work-out, more people are turning to sports and energy drinks. While these beverages may quench your thirst, new research indicates that they may also increase your chances of tooth decay and gum disease.

Soft Drink Nation
Carbonated beverages account for a quarter of all drinks consumed in America. In 2000, nearly 15 billion gallons were sold in the United States alone. That’s enough to provide one 12-ounce can a day for every person in the country.

Unfortunately, adults aren’t the only ones drinking carbonated beverages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the biggest drinkers are kids, sometimes as young as two years old. Research shows that, by the age of eight, more than half of the kids across the country are drinking colas daily. In their teenage years, they’re downing at least three carbonated beverages a day.

While colas make up a huge segment of the beverage market, sports and energy drinks aren’t far behind them. Although these beverages help athletes re-hydrate after a long workout, more people, including children, are reaching for them on a daily basis to simply quench their thirst.

Drinking to New Health Problems
As more people turn to colas and sports drinks, they face a new set of health problems. Both beverages, which are high in calories and sugar while low in nutrients, have been linked to obesity in numerous studies. Phosphorus, a common ingredient in soda, has been proven to deplete calcium in bones and cause bone weakening.

Most recently, a study by Dr. Anthony von Fraunhofer, Professor of Biomaterials Science at the University of Maryland Dental School, and published by the Academy of General Dentistry, showed how carbonated beverages and sports drinks can cause irreversible damage to dental enamel, potentially resulting in severe tooth decay and gum disease.

Dental enamel is the thin, outer layer of your teeth that protects them from decay and holds their structure and shape together. In von Fraunhofer’s study, enamel from cavity free molars and premolars was continually exposed to a variety of beverages, including energy and sports drinks, colas, and non-cola beverages, such as lemonade and ice tea, over a period of 14 days. The length of the exposure was comparable to 13 years of normal beverage consumption.

After exposure, the study revealed that colas significantly eroded enamel, but sports and energy drinks caused three to eleven times more damage. In colas, researchers attribute the enamel break down to phosphorous and citric acids. With sports drinks, however, additives and organic acids broke down calcium and eroded dental enamel more quickly than the chemicals in cola did.

Protecting Your Teeth
The study was especially concerning for researchers since most people reach for a cola or sports drink when they are thirsty or dehydrated. Normally, saliva helps neutralize acids like those in cola and sports drinks, but saliva levels are the lowest when you are dehydrated. Continual drinking of these beverages, especially when you’re thirsty, can erode teeth to the dentin, the layer below enamel, and cause pain and sensitivity in your teeth. When left unchecked, the erosion can cause a nerve infection and lead to a root canal.

Because of this study, the Academy of General Dentistry recommends limiting the intake of soda and sports drinks. Choosing water or low fat milk when you’re thirsty can preserve dental enamel and ultimately protect your teeth from decay. When you do want to enjoy these carbonated and sports beverages, drink them with a full meal and be sure to brush and floss soon after drinking them. If you drink them alone, chew sugarless gum afterward to increase your saliva flow.