People are becoming more and more health conscious every day, making the decision to be more active and try different types of sports and physical activities.
While this is a wonderful trend when it comes to the overall health and wellbeing of the population, dentists are being confronting with one downside that this increase in exercise seems to have: the increased use of sports drinks during and after exercise.
In a recent study by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) it was found that 50% of Australians are completely unaware of the damage that sports drinks can do to their teeth. Plus, approximately a third of parents allow their children to drink sports drinks at least once aware, once again unaware of the permanent damage that these drinks could be doing to their children’s dental health.
The Negative Effects of Sports Drinks on Dental Health
Essentially, sports drinks were designed to give athletes a densely packed hit of carbohydrates, thereby lessening fatigue and increasing the rate of recovery. Inherently then, sports drinks and supplements are chock full of simple carbohydrates—also known as sugar, particularly fructose and glucose.
The dangers that sugar poses to dental health are widely known and understood—parents have been warning their children about the danger of soft drink for decades.
But, it’s not just the sugar in sports drinks that attack your teeth (while you attack your love handles!). Sport drinks carry the additional, hidden danger of having a (usually) high level of acidity. This acidity is used in order to change the taste of the drink, or to increase its shelf life. The average sports drink carries an acidic pH level of between 2.4 and 4.5, which is similar to a can of soft drink like Coca Cola.
While saliva is our natural defense mechanism against this acid, and the erosion that it causes, if your teeth are exposed to the acids in sports drinks on a regular basis, your saliva simply doesn’t have enough time to repair the damage that it is causing.
The way in which sports drinks are consumed also contributes to dental problems. Sports drinks and intra-workout supplements are often sipped, instead of finished in one go. This means that your teeth are subjected to repeated hits of sugar and acidity over an extended period of time. This is combined with the fact that during exercise you’re often dehydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your decreased flow of saliva puts you at an even greater chance of dental damage.
Sports gels and lollies are just as harmful to the strength of your teeth as sports drinks. The consistency of these supplements means that they stick to your teeth, increasing the exposure to acidity and sugar. If you consume gels and lollies alongside sports drinks, the danger to your dental health increases even more.
How Can I Limit Dental Damage Caused by Sports Drinks?
If you do consume sports drinks or supplements, there are a few things you can do to limit the dental damage that they are likely to cause:
- Squirt the drink to the back of your mouth so that it limits the contact with your teeth.
- Drink with a straw to help bypass contact with the teeth.
- Chewing sugar free gum increases saliva flow which helps break down harmful acid and protect teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with water after each sip of sports drink.
- Consume foods rich in calcium and phosphate in order to re-mineralise the surface of your teeth. This is an easy thing to do, as calcium rich foods are often high in protein, which will aid in recovery time. Some brands of sports drinks and supplements contain calcium supplements, so look for these ones before your next workout.
- Drink water if you’re using gels or lollies and try and keep bits from sticking to your teeth. Sugar free chewing gum can assist in dislodging sticky bits from the teeth as well.
- Never rinse your mouthguard with sports drink, always use water. Never drink a sports drink with your mouthguard on, this allows the drink to pool in the mouthguard.
- Try not to get too dehydrated during exercise; your teeth will be able to deal with the sugar and acidity of sports drinks more easily if your salivary flow is high.
- Don’t sip sports drinks for a long duration—this means your teeth are subjected to the sugar over long periods of time.
- Don’t brush your teeth for at least six minutes after consuming a sports drink or supplement—give your teeth time to harden.
- Never consume acidic or sugary drinks before going to bed, doing so only gives the sugar and acidity more time to chip away at your teeth.
According to the ADA, there are also a number of ways to improve your health, even if you have been regularly drinking sports drinks:
- Drink water wherever possible. Unlike sports drinks, it contains absolutely no sugar (so it’s not damaging your teeth). Plus, it contains fluoride which actually helps to protect your teeth.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste.
Do I Really Need a Sports Drink to Exercise?
Clever, effective marketing has created the idea that sports drinks are good for you, that they are an essential part of any exercise regime. The truth is, sports drinks were created for athletes who engage in high-intensity exercise. If you go for a three-kilometre run or play social tennis on the weekend, tap water is all you need to keep yourself hydrated. All the tips listed above will help to heal some of the tooth decay, but high-sugar, high-acidity drinks will always have an affect on your dental health.
The problem of tooth decay linked to sports drink use is no more evident than in the statistics put out by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which notes that 15% to 75% of athletes are affected by decaying teeth, 15% by moderate-to-severe gum disease while 36% to 85% of athletes suffer from enamel erosion. Those are pretty damning statistics, so it’s worth asking yourself the question, do I really need a sports drink when I’m exercising?
If you’re training for an Ironman or a marathon, then you may need to consume high-carbohydrate drinks but even in these cases, you should only consume these drinks if its absolutely necessary. If you’re a casual exerciser, stick to the water; it will give you all the hydration you need without sending you to the dentist.
If you’re unsure about sports drinks, you should get in contact with your doctor or a nutritionist. They’ll be able to tell you exactly what you should be consuming in order to support your body during exercise.