Sports Drinks and Dental Health

Fact:  Sugar is bad for dental health.  It’s a common sense fact that most of us seem to know, and maybe even take for granted.  What doesn’t seem to make much sense is that sports drinks appear to be high on the list of “dental don’ts.”   Recent studies are revealing that not only are soft drinks and fruit juices full of sugar, but so are most sports drinks!  And researchers are now saying that sports drinks are just as bad for dental health as your favorite soda pop. 

A study out of the University of Iowa School of Dentistry was recently presented at an annual meeting of the American Association for Dental Research in Orlando, Florida.  In this study, it was emphasized that energy drinks and sports drinks are responsible for eroding tooth enamel, “especially Gatorade and Red Bull," says Leslie A. Ehlen.  Dentists are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that sugary drinks are the major culprit in tooth decay. 

The University of Iowa researchers tested extracted teeth that they covered with nail polish. Two bare patches were left on each tooth, one on the enamel and one on the root. The researchers then submerged the teeth in test tubes filled with regular Coke, Diet Coke, Gatorade, Red Bull, or 100% apple juice. The researchers refreshed the beverages every five hours; and after 25 hours, the teeth were examined with a microscope. All of the beverages eroded the bare spots on the teeth. But different beverages had significantly different effects. On the enamel, Gatorade was significantly more corrosive than Red Bull and Coke. Red Bull and Coke, in turn, were significantly more corrosive than Diet Coke and apple juice. On the roots of the teeth, Gatorade was more corrosive than Red Bull. Coke, apple juice, and Diet Coke followed in that order. The difference in the effect was not simply due to their sugar content. Gatorade is 6% carbohydrates, mostly sugars. Coke is about 10% sugar. Both are acidic beverages.

Many studies are pointing to similar findings; and of course, a 2002 study from Ohio State University found no link between sports-drink use and dental erosion. The study was sponsored by Quaker Oats, which happens to be the maker of Gatorade.  Some studies point to “how the sugar is used….”  In other words, if you drink these drinks, followed by drinking water to rinse it off your teeth, then your chances of tooth decay are lessened.  They can talk about the “frequency of exposure” all day long, but to my mind, I say DON’T DRINK ANY OF IT!!  There are so many delicious, safe and healthy beverages to enjoy, so why risk your dental health—and the myriad other health dangers that come along with a sugar-filled diet. 

Are you a soda pop or sports drinker?  Some people drink it all day long, every day.  Eliminating these drinks is one of the best things you can do for your health, particularly diet sodas sweetened with saccharin, cyclamates and aspartame.   As a teenager, I was a “car-hop” at a local A & W Restaurant—and no, I didn’t wear skates!  But I remember that people with car problems would often walk up and buy a cup of cola to pour over the terminals of their car batteries to remove the corrosion.  In high school science class we did an experiment by soaking a steak in a bowl of cola and it was gone in two days!  The active ingredient in soda pop is phosphoric acid and has a pH level of 2.8; that’s what creates the carbonation, making it fizz, (hence the name “pop”).   For years natural food stores have been carrying safe alternatives to soda pop, and they taste very good.  But read these labels too, and try to avoid any containing carbonated water.  
Healthy Alternatives

Coconut water is a very tasty alternative to sports drinks. It’s one of the most effective drinks to help rehydrate your cells, it’s delicious, low in carbs, low in sugar, and it’s 99% fat free.

Reach for pure water! Increase your daily intake by keeping small bottles of water ready to grab out of the refrigerator. Two to three quarts may seem like a lot, but if you avoid drinking soda pop, coffee and tea by substituting water, you’ll be up to that amount in no time, and you’ll see a big difference in your health and the moisture level of your skin.

Add flavor and health-power to your water by squeezing in a wedge of lemon, lime or orange; and if you can only afford to buy one organic food item, let it be the citrus fruit you add to your beverages—the peels of citrus fruits often retain most of the pesticides and insecticides left remaining on produce. So buy organic or wash the fruit well with a “veggie wash” before adding it to your water or teas.

Mix water with a small amount of natural fruit juice for added flavor and nutrients. Sip on a tall glass of diluted green tea with ice cubes and a sprig of mint or slice of citrus. Experiment with iced teas such as raspberry, peppermint and chamomile; they can all satisfy a sweet tooth, provide health benefits and have the power of hydrating our cells.

Remember to include Power Foods in your daily diet—they help keep your energy up and balanced, and they offer micronutrients that deliver what your body and mind need, such as:

  • Blueberries—the brain food.  The brain uses 10 times more oxygen than the rest of the body, but oxygen in the form of "free radicals" can damage the brain's cells. To keep oxygen levels at a healthy balance, micronutrients like antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables are necessary.  
  • Citrus—high in Vitamin C, one of the necessities for good energy, it helps with iron absorption and a host of other energy processes.  Oranges and grapefruit are at the top of the list.
  • Oatmeal—helps to maintain energy all day long, helps regulate cholesterol too—and tastes great with blueberries and citrus!
  • Walnuts—the easy energy snack.  Again, add that to your oatmeal, and you’ve got a powerhouse!
  • Sweet Potatoes—high in vitamin A, and they are high in fiber and help your body to fight cancer and aging.
  • Salmon—an excellent source of protein, rich with omega-3 fatty acids to help prevent strokes and heart attacks. They also help lower triglycerides and blood pressure.
  • Broccoli—loaded with micronutrients, and contains iron, magnesium, calcium, and Vitamins A and C, and might help fight cancer.
  • Spinach—raw is best, but cooked is okay too. Loaded with Vitamin B in the form of folic acid; eat it raw whenever possible.
  • Avocado—helps raise HDL, the "good" cholesterol; and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

So next time you reach for an energy drink, avoid the sugary dangers of sports drinks and sodas, and grab a healthy alternative. Your teeth (and body) will thank you!

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