A new study published in the journal General Dentistry found that energy and sports drinks contain so much acid that they start destroying teeth after only five days of consistent use. Thirty to 50 percent of American teens use energy drinks, the paper says, and up to 62 percent drink sports drinks at least once a day.
Damage to enamel can cause teeth to become sensitive to touch and temperature changes, and be more susceptible to cavities and decay.
"Young adults consume these drinks assuming that they will improve their sports performance and energy levels and that they are 'better' for them than soda," said Poonam Jain, lead author of the study. "Most of these patients are shocked to learn that these drinks are essentially bathing their teeth with acid."
Jain and colleagues analyzed the acidity of 13 different sports drinks and nine energy drinks by submerging samples of human tooth enamel in each for 15 minutes. They then submerged the samples in artificial saliva for two hours. This was repeated four times a day for five days. The scientists observed damage to the enamel by the time the five days were up.
Energy drinks were the worst culprits, the researchers said. They said acidity levels vary among brands and flavors of energy drinks, and caused twice as much damage as the sports drinks.
"Bacteria convert sugar to acid, and it's the acid bath that damages enamel, not the sugar directly," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center. "So by incorporating a high acid load in a drink, we are just cutting out the middleman on the way to tooth decay."
These drinks are glorified sodas, with as much or more sugar, said Katz.
"There may be a role for them for rehydration among endurance athletes under intense training conditions, but sports drinks make little sense for anyone else," said Katz. "A far better approach would be working to improve sleep quality and quantity and overall health."
"When these drinks combine a load of acid and sugar, they are detrimental to waistline and smile alike," said Katz.