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Commentary | June 8, 2009

Energy and sports drinks: friend or foe?

By Airman 1st Class Brylie Button 1st Dental Squadron

Do you work full time, go to school, play sports, or do you just crave some oomph in your life? Energy drinks are readily available and seem to be a fast way to get your fix. They are popular in today's society for increasing your stamina and giving you that bright-eyed, bushy tail appearance. Unfortunately, energy drinks and sports drinks do have drawbacks which can negatively impact your blood pressure, oral hygiene, weight, and sleeping habits. Today the focus will be on your oral hygiene and what you can do to maintain healthy gums and enamel for a sparkling shine. Let me fill you in on a few secrets! 

Over the past three years energy drinks have been on the rise in sales while sports drinks sales have been decreasing. According to AAFES, between 2006 and 2008 energy drink sales soared from 954,008 containers to 2,475,475. Comparatively, sales of sports drinks like Gatorade has fallen by 84,703 containers within the same time frame. "So, what is the big deal?" It's the high sugar content in these beverages that is often overlooked and provides reason to be alarmed. 

Let's take a look at the number one seller, the 16 fluid ounce Monster energy drink. In one Monster, there are 54 grams of sugar, which is more than nine teaspoons of sugar! Consuming a beverage with significant sugar content creates an environment more susceptible to cavities. Every time you take a sip of that drink the sugar coats your teeth, and the bacteria in your mouth uses the sugar to form an acid. The acid can attack your teeth for up to 20 minutes, eventually causing decay. Your mouth's pH balance is then compromised, which creates an acidic environment that destroys your enamel. The more frequently you create this environment, as well as induce acid attacks, the weaker your enamel becomes. Enamel is the strongest and one of the most important protective surfaces in the body; once enamel is lost, it is not re-gained. 

What about highly advertised sports drinks like Gatorade? Don't be fooled into thinking these can be a good replacement for energy drinks or even sodas. Sports drinks can be helpful, but their benefits are generally limited to replenishing electrolytes lost during exercise and staying hydrated. 

Many studies have been done on the subject. According to Dr. Leslie Ehlen, a student at the University of Iowa, School of Dentistry, "...it doesn't mean that Gatorade and other sports drinks are necessarily harder on your teeth than Coke and other soft drinks, but it may be a surprise that they aren't any better, either." The sugar and carbohydrates content in a 16 fluid ounce Gatorade both equal to 28 grams, which is equivalent to six teaspoons of sugar. Nutritionally speaking, Gatorade is not a healthy alternative drink when sipping daily. 

So what can you do to prevent energy and sports drinks from negatively affecting your oral health? Well, there are many alternatives you can choose within your diet without actually changing your lifestyle. 

It is recommended to consume your beverage in a short period of time. One of the top contributors to decay is not only the amount, but frequency of sugar exposure. Many of us work long hours and need a constant stimulus to keep our wheels turning. Remember that "acid attack" mentioned earlier?  That will continue throughout the day if you sip continuously. The key to changing this acidic environment is to minimize the sugar and acid exposure. The fewer sips you take, the less frequently your teeth are exposed to acid, which decreases the likelihood of decay. 

OK, so maybe you want to enjoy your beverage without gulping it down in a hurry. Don't panic. There are more alternatives available. One alternative would be to choose drinks that are sugar free. Crystal Light, which contains nutrisweet, and other drinks that contain a sugar substitute such as Splenda, can reduce the risk of tooth decay. 

Another option is choosing a cup of black coffee to get your morning caffeine zing. Black coffee will give you the caffeine boost you desire, and at the same time minimize acid/sugar attacks. Lastly, if you find it difficult to modify your diet, don't ever forget the power of water! Steadily sipping water throughout the day keeps you hydrated, and drinking water after having an energy drink helps wash away the sugar. Increased awareness of nutritional content, and thinking "outside the box", will not only help you maintain a healthy lifestyle, it will also positively influence your oral health and preserve that beautiful smile.