This afternoon I was lying back in the dentists chair getting a filling replaced. Don’t you love it when the dentist starts having a conversation with you after they have stuck as many instruments as possible in your mouth? I needed a diversion and funnily enough got to thinking about teeth and decay and how I managed to be getting a filling in the first place. After that pointless exercise my mind wandered off to one of the most common questions I get asked by parents. Do sports drinks cause dental decay? Sports drinks have a place in the lives of athletes and anyone who exercises regularly for longer than 1 hour. Sports drinks are multi-skilled as they provide carbohydrate and electrolytes as well as looking after your fluid needs. However, there has been some concern within the dental and health professions that sports drinks may increase the risk of dental decay. Not to mention parents. The question is, if you use sports drinks are you at greater risk than the general population for dental caries and erosion ? The more often you consume food and drinks containing carbohydrate the greater the risk of dental decay. Any athlete worth their mettle will admit to eating more than their friends, family and work-mates put together and will more than likely be eating often throughout the day. Any foods or drinks (eg. soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juice) with fermentable carbohydrates (sugars and cooked starches) can be used by plaque bacteria to produce acid which can dissolve tooth enamel. The more frequently you eat or drink the greater the opportunity for this to occur. So, if you are using the common cow as a role model and graze often this can present some problems. Saliva is a good buffer against the plaque acids and contains high amounts of calcium and phosphate which can remineralise enamel. This process requires at least 2 hours between meals. Now there is a challenge, can you survive for two hours without food ? It is a good idea to avoid food intake directly before bedtime, as salivary flow decreases at night. How can you help your teeth and still enjoy life?
- Try to minimise beverage contact with your teeth by using a squeeze bottle and ingesting the fluid rapidly. If you drink from an open bottle or glass the whole mouth is being rinsed which increases the production of acid.
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly. Mouthwashes may also be useful.
- Use sports drinks only when you need them and not as a thirst quencher.Water is the best fluid to drink routinely during the day.
- Try and leave 2 hours between consuming food and beverages containing carbohydrate.
- Trychewing gum without sugar (it increases the production of saliva).
End result: sports drinks are no more likely than fruit juice and soft drink to cause dental decay. Of course there are some people who buy sports drinks as a substitute for actually doing the exercise. As always, there is no substitute for the real thing. PS. Just in case you are also worried about sports drinks being high in salt, stop. They do contain some salt which is very handy for dragging some of the water from the sports drink into your body but still only contain slightly less salt than milk…