Although a sports-type drink was invented decades earlier in the United Kingdom to provide energy for those who were ill, the first true sports drink was invented at the University of Florida in 1965 to address the unique physical challenges faced by top athletes—Gatorade, named for the team, the Gators. Specifically, the Gators’ coach noticed that his players lost a great deal of weight, were at increased risk for heat stroke, and, despite high water consumption, did not urinate regularly. University doctors narrowed down the problem to the amount of sugar, salt, and electrolytes players lost through sweating. Gatorade caught on the next year, when the team had an incredible season, and an industry was born.

Today, many people swear by the benefits of sports drinks, consuming them not only during intense physical activity, but also as a soda replacement throughout the day. However, sports drinks were not designed for this purpose, and they can cause some real damage, particularly to the teeth, when consumed regularly. Here is what you need to know about sports drinks and dental health.

How Sports Drinks Affect My Dental Health

Sugars

Although low-sugar options are available, sports drinks were designed in part to replace sugar lost through sweating. Many original formula sports drinks contain a great deal of sugar—as much as, or even more than, the amount in traditional soft drinks. The effects of sugar on the teeth are well known. In short, sugar feeds the bacteria that prey on tooth enamel, making the teeth more susceptible to cavities.

Acids

Sports drinks also contain a great deal of acid. While the bacteria fed by sugar produce acids that destroy tooth enamel, the acids contained within sports drinks give the bacteria a head start. As few as five days of sports drink consumption could be enough to start the process of eroding tooth enamel.

Other Health Risks

Like all soft drinks, sports drinks have been implicated in a wide range of health conditions, from heart disease to diabetes. These conditions can cause damage to oral health, further compounding the problem. Maintaining teeth is a real challenge for those with chronic illnesses, as well as for those who regularly consume sports drinks and similar beverages. Putting these issues together could put you at a significantly higher risk for developing tooth decay and gum disease.

Minimizing Damage

Of course, sports drinks play a valuable role in maintaining hydration and electrolyte balance during periods of intense activity. Electrolyte activity is responsible for controlling many of the body’s systems, and allowing your electrolytes to go too low could become physically dangerous. Sports drinks are highly useful under the specific circumstances for which they were designed.

However, the negative effects of sports drinks mean that they are not a good choice for daily consumption. They are not much, if any, better than the sodas they are often chosen to replace, and do not provide nearly the benefits of plain, clear water. Restrict your sports drink indulgence to times when you truly need the burst of energy and electrolytes.

When you do consume sports drinks, rinse your mouth with plain water as soon as possible. This removes the remaining liquid, preventing it from sitting on your teeth long enough to attack the enamel. If you are unable to rinse, chew a piece of sugar-free gum instead. This will encourage saliva production, creating a natural mouth rinse.

Do not brush your teeth for at least an hour following a sports drink. The toothbrush itself can actually drag the acids across your teeth, setting the stage for further enamel damage. Let your saliva do its job before brushing.

Sports drinks are not inherently evil, and there is nothing wrong with consuming one now and then. However, they should be treated like any other soft drink. Minimize your consumption, choose low sugar options when possible, and rinse your mouth after finishing. Consider them an occasional indulgence, and focus on drinking lots of clear, plain water.

Family Dental Care of Bellevue provides quality dental care to patients and their families, and has been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. Call us today at 425-643-5778 to learn how we can help improve your smile.

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