Dental health & sports drinks 1 August 2013 Do you drink sports drinks regularly to help you rehydrate and refuel when exercising, training or when competing in a sport? Or do you drink them during your day-to-day life because you like them or feel you need that boost of energy? In actual fact, very few people need sports drinks. Sports drinks are really only needed by professional athletes or people who are competing in intense and/or long-duration sports. They shouldn’t be consumed on a daily basis or if you are doing moderate-intensity, short-duration exercise. If you are doing low to moderate intensity activity or activity of less than one hour, water is the best drink to choose. Advice for athletes and those participating in high-intensity and/or long-duration sports Sports products, including sports drinks and carbohydrate gels have been shown to be effective in boosting energy levels and improving performance in athletes training or competing in high-intensity and/or long-duration sports. However, many dentists are concerned about the increasing rate of dental problems among people who consume them regularly. Some of the teeth problems that may occur include: Dental erosion – this refers to the teeth dissolving usually because of contact with acids found in many foods and drinks. Dental decay – this occurs when acidic foods and drinks cause bacteria to build up on the surface of the teeth. The bacteria then feeds off the sugars that are found in the food and drink and eat away at the teeth. How do sports drinks cause damage to teeth? There are two main ways that sports drinks can cause damage to your teeth: Acidity â€“ Sports drinks contain food acids. These acids weaken and dissolve the hard, outer covering of the teeth (the enamel) as well as the tooth material below, and Sugar content â€“ Sports drinks and carbohydrate gels contain carbohydrate in the form of sugar so that energy (glucose) can be quickly delivered to the working muscles. However, it is the sugar in the foods and drinks that can stick to your teeth. The bacteria naturally found in your mouth feed off these sugars and eat away at your teeth. Athletes who frequently sip these drinks are at greater risk of dental problems, as the sugar and acids are in contact with the teeth for a longer amount of time. Saliva also protects teeth and if you are dehydrated you have less saliva and are at greater risk of tooth damage. What are the signs of dental erosion and decay? Signs of tooth decay and erosion include: Thinning or chipping of the front teeth that are used for biting Teeth that are becoming brown or grey Sensitivity to hot/cold and sweetness for the length of time that these foods and drinks are in your mouth Fillings that appear to stick out of the tooth as the tooth dissolves away Holes in the back teeth that are normally used for chewing. What can I do to prevent dental problems? If you are an athlete, training for or competing in a sport, then sports drinks and carbohydrate gels can still be a part of your sports nutrition plan. The following are a few tips that can help to reduce your risk of dental problems: Only consume sports drinks for higher-intensity or longer-duration sports of more than one hour. For day-to-day general exercise and low-intensity sports of less than one hour, water is all you will need. Squirt sports drinks directly into the back of your mouth or use a straw when possible to minimise any contact with your teeth. Swallow sports drinks immediately, do not hold them or swish them around in your mouth. Do not ever use sports drinks as a mouth wash and only ever wash mouth guards with water. Have a mouthful of water after a sports drink. Although it will not protect your teeth or neutralise the acid, it will help to get rid of the drink from your mouth and help to produce saliva. Saliva will help to protect the teeth Drink water when using carbohydrate gels, rather than sports drinks. Use a product such as tooth mousse. This is a mousse that you can apply to your teeth that contains fluoride, calcium and phosphate. This will help to protect teeth from decay and also repair and restore some of the damaged tooth enamel. Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after drinking sports drinks. Brushing your teeth within 30 minutes of drinking a sports drink when the tooth surface is still soft can cause further damage. It is important that you discuss fluid and nutrition strategies for your personalised training needs with your dentist. Regular visits to your dentist will detect any early damage.