A lot of parents know that too many high sugar sodas are not only hazardous to their child’s waistline and health, but they can also cause cavities. But what about the energy drinks teens are gulping down? A new study suggests those drinks could be stripping the enamel right off their teeth.
In a study published in the May/June issue of General Dentistry, researchers have looked for the first time at the effects of energy drinks on teeth. It turns out there's often a lot of citric acid in the drinks.
To give drinks a long shelf life and to enhance flavors, preservatives are added. It’s the preservatives that are very good at stripping the enamel off of teeth.
Dentists are especially worried about teens. 30 to 50 percent are now drinking energy and sports drinks and losing enamel. Once it's gone, teeth are more prone to cavities and more likely to decay.
"We are well aware of the damage that sugar does in the mouth and in the whole body — the role it can play in obesity, diabetes, etc," says Poonam Jain, an associate professor in the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and the lead author of the study. "But the average consumer is not very well aware that acid does all kinds of damage, too."
To measure just how energy and sports drinks affect teeth, the researchers looked at the fluoride levels, pH, and something called "titratable acidity" of 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks, including Gatorade and Red Bull.
The researchers then measured how much enamel the drinks took off teeth, dousing sliced-up molars in a petri dish with the beverages for 15 minutes, followed by artificial saliva for two hours. This was repeated four times a day for five days.
The researchers found that teeth lost enamel with exposure to both kinds of drinks, but energy drinks took off a lot more enamel than sports drinks.
Drink labels list citric acid in the ingredients, but they don’t have to show the precise amount.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) was quick to respond to the study.
"It is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay (dental caries or cavities)," the ABA said in a statement responding to Jain's paper. "Science tells us that individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person's dental hygiene behavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up."
"This study was not conducted on humans and in no way mirrors reality," the ABA noted in its statement. "People do not keep any kind of liquid in their mouths for 15 minute intervals over five day periods. Thus, the findings of this paper simply cannot be applied to real life situations."
Jain is concerned about health effects beyond cavities. She says consuming a lot of citric acid can lead to loss of bone mass and kidney stones. "This has become a big concern because people are drinking more of these drinks and less milk," she says.
Dentist Dr. Jennifer Bone, spokesperson for Academy of General Dentistry, the organization that publishes the journal, said in the statement that teens and adults should curb their intake of these types of drinks. If they're going to drink one anyway, she recommends they chew sugar-free gum or rinse their mouth with water after drinking the beverage.
"Both tactics increase saliva flow, which naturally helps to return the acidity levels in the mouth to normal," Bone said.