In the sports world, athletes are always looking for an edge. And it’s not just college or professional sports—even Little Leaguers are focused on enhancing their performance.
That’s why sports and energy drinks have rocketed in popularity. With marketing pitches promising to increase stamina or replace lost nutrients from strenuous workouts, it’s not unusual to find these beverages in sports bags or the team water cooler.
But there’s a downside to them regarding your dental health—they’re often high in sugar and acidity. Both drink types could increase your risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease over time.
Sugar is a primary food source for the bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. They also produce acid, which at high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. The risk for enamel erosion also increases with the drink’s acidity.
You can lessen your risk of these unpleasant outcomes by restricting your consumption of these beverages. In fact, unless your sports activity is highly strenuous for long periods, your best hydration choice is usually water.
But if you do drink a sports or energy drink for an extra lift, be sure to take these precautions for the sake of your teeth:
Try to drink them only at mealtimes. Continually sipping on these drinks between meals never gives your saliva a chance to neutralize mouth acid. Reserving acidic foods and beverages for mealtimes will allow saliva to catch up until the next meal.
Rinse with water after your drink. Water usually has a neutral pH. This can help dilute mouth acid and reduce the mouth’s overall acidity.
Don’t brush right after drinking or eating. Increased acid that can occur right after drinking or eating can immediately soften tooth enamel, but saliva can neutralize and help restore minerals to tooth enamel within an hour. Brushing during this period could remove tiny bits of the enamel’s minerals.
Taking these precautions will help keep sports or energy drinks from eroding your tooth enamel. Once it’s gone, you won’t be able to get it back.
If you would like more information on protecting your tooth enamel, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Think Before You Drink: Sports and Energy Beverages Bathe Teeth in Erosive Acids.”
Tooth decay doesn't appear out of nowhere. It begins with bacteria, which produce acid that softens and erodes tooth enamel. Without adequate enamel protection, cavities can develop.
So, one of our prevention goals is to decrease populations of disease-causing bacteria. One way is to deprive them of carbohydrates, a prime food source, most notably refined sugar. That's why for decades dentists have instructed patients to limit their intake of sugar, especially between meal snacks.
Ironically, we're now consuming more rather than less sugar from a generation ago. The higher consumption impacts more than dental health — it's believed to be a contributing factor in many health problems, especially in children. Thirty years ago it was nearly impossible to find a child in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes: today, there are over 50,000 documented juvenile cases.
Cutting back isn't easy. For one thing, we're hard-wired for sweet-tasting foods. Our ancestors trusted such foods when there was limited food safety knowledge. Most of us today still have our "sweet tooth."
There's also another factor: the processed food industry. When food researchers concluded fats were a health hazard the government changed dietary guidelines. Food processors faced a problem because they used fats as a flavor enhancer. To restore flavor they began adding small amounts of sugar to foods like lunch meat, bread, tomato sauce and peanut butter. Today, three-quarters of the 600,000 available processed food items contain some form of added sugar.
Although difficult given your available supermarket choices, limiting your sugar intake to the recommended 6 teaspoons a day will reduce your risk for dental and some general diseases. There are things you can do: replace processed foods with more fresh fruits and vegetables; read food labels for sugar content to make better purchasing decisions; drink water for hydration rather than soda (which can contain two-thirds of your daily recommended sugar allowance), sports drinks or juices; and exercise regularly.
Keeping your sugar consumption under control will help you reduce the risk of tooth decay. You'll be helping your overall health too.
If you would like more information on the effect of sugar on health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Bitter Truth about Sugar.”
While you do all you can to provide your child healthy meals and snacks at home, they still face tempting choices for unhealthy fare when they’re away. Unfortunately, their school campus could be one of those places with food choices that raise their risk for dental disease.
Thankfully, that situation is beginning to change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued regulations a few years ago tightening minimum health standards for snacks available on school grounds. Called the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative, it promotes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, while discouraging snacks with empty calories, fat, sugar and excessive salt. This is good news in particular for preventing tooth decay in children and teenagers.
Unfortunately, the initiative may not go far enough. There are a few “loopholes”: it allows for chocolate milk with added sugar as long as it’s fat-free; high schools can also sell beverages like sports and energy drinks, which are low in sugar but high in enamel-harming acid. So, although the general nutrition of snacks in schools may be improving, you should still remain alert to poor choices that may fall through the cracks.
For one thing, you can advocate for better nutrition policies in your child’s school. The USDA initiative is a minimum standard — schools can exceed them and eliminate borderline snacks allowed under the federal regulations.
You can also provide your child snack alternatives to the school vending machine. A little creativity and fun can go a long way: a dash of cinnamon or parmesan cheese on popcorn instead of butter; finger sandwiches made of real cheese on whole-grain bread (with some whimsical shaping with a cookie-cutter); or bite-sized fruits and vegetables like grapes, baby carrots or nuts. The more healthy (and enjoyable) snacks you can send with them, the less chance they’ll turn to a less nutritious choice in the vending machine.
A healthier approach to snacking depends on setting good examples, providing ample selections and accentuating the positive about healthy foods. Choosing nutritious foods, at home and away, is a key building block for healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on nutrition and dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Snacking at School.”