The Tooth About Sports Drinks

In the continuing controversy about safe caffeine levels in energy drinks, we add a new caveat: dental decay. The findings of a University College London study show that athletes who frequently consume sports drinks, energy gels and energy bars, despite reportedly good dental maintenance, exhibited poor oral health.

The UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance team surveyed 352 Olympic and professional athletes ages 18 – 39. These athletes regularly use sports drinks (87%), energy bars (59%) and energy gels (70%). The dental team provided dental check-ups where they measured gum health, acid erosion and tooth decay. Although 94% of the male and female athletes (across 11 sports) said they brushed their teeth at least 2x a day, the dental researchers determined that nearly half had untreated tooth decay, and the large majority showed early signs of gum inflammation.

Findings from similar studies suggest that these athletes may have a higher risk for dental disease because of dry mouth resulting from intensive training. It’s also thought that the sugar and high acidity in sports drinks and similar energy products contribute to a higher level of tooth decay and erosion.

Extra note from Drs. Fava and Levine: Sports drinks include Gatorade, the thirst quencher that’s chock full of electrolytes. It includes 36 grams of sugar in a 20-ounce serving. That’s less sugar than in a can of Coke (65 grams) but a lot more than in a bottle of water (0 grams!).