It is common knowledge that soft drinks can damage your teeth, but did you know that there is another popular drink that can cause just as much harm? Most sports drinks can damage your teeth as quickly as soft drinks and many people are unaware of this. Any drink that is highly acidic (even fruit juices) can weaken and erode tooth enamel leading to cavities far more quickly than you would imagine.
Read on to find out why, and to learn about ways to drink acidic beverages with minimal damage to your beautiful smile.
What happens when you drink acidic drinks?
Erosion takes place when acids wear down the enamel on the surface of your teeth, making it thinner. Why is erosion bad? It allows cavities to form more easily, and super weak teeth can even crack or chip with the pressure of biting on something hard.
Erosion begins happening anytime the pH around your teeth is lower than 5.5 (1). PH measures how acidic or basic a substance is. When something is highly acidic it will have a very low pH number. Our saliva usually has a pH range of 6.2 – 7.6. The mouth needs to stay in this range because it prevents periodontal disease, decreases the ability of plaque to form into calculus (which is harder and more damaging to teeth than plaque), and allows your tooth enamel to stay strong.
Enamel only stays strong when it can remineralize faster than it wears down. Remineralization occurs when elements like calcium and phosphorus are absorbed into the enamel, making it stronger. Saliva contains these elements, which continually wash over and remineralize the surfaces of your teeth.
The things that you eat and drink change the pH around your teeth and will either help your teeth stay strong or weaken them. Milk is a great example of a beneficial drink for your teeth. It has a pH range of 6.5 – 7 and also contains calcium which is absorbed into your tooth enamel.
On the other hand, acidic drinks lower the pH of your mouth. This prevents the saliva from doing its job, and the low pH around teeth actually causes vital minerals to leave the enamel, resulting in thinner enamel.
Why are Sport Drinks so harmful?
Sports drinks are excellent at providing hydration and energy, replacing electrolytes, and increasing concentration during intense physical activity. Unfortunately, they also cause accelerated tooth erosion which leads to extensive tooth decay (1).
One study showed that the more you drink, the higher your chance of extensive tooth erosion.
This study found that:
Only 26% of people who drank less than .24 liters per day had dental erosion.
41% of people who drank .25 - .75 liters per day were affected.
77% of people who drank more than .75 liters per day displayed extensive tooth erosion.
Let’s do the math. The most common size bottles of Gatorade and Powerade contain 32 or 20 fluid ounces (fl. oz.).
32 oz. = .95 liters.
20 oz. = .59 liters.
So, if you simply have one large bottle of these drinks most days, you have a 77% chance of dental erosion. Even the smaller size carries a significant risk.
Do you need to stop drinking sport drinks?
Sport drinks do play a significant role in improving the performance of athletes during intense physical activity. If you plan to drink sport drinks for that purpose, we have a section below with tips to minimize damage to your teeth.
If you plan to have a moderate intensity, shorter duration workout, it is probably better to rehydrate with water and refuel with something less harmful to your teeth.
There is good news though! The makers of sport drinks are aware of the problem and are researching ways to reduce the negative impact on your teeth. Hopefully, we will soon have an option that is better for your teeth.
Sports drinks aren’t the only culprit. Energy drinks, soft drinks, juice, and even flavored water can have very high acidity, which is seen in a low pH number. Here is a list of the pH levels of some popular beverages.
Remember, your teeth are protected when you drink beverages with a pH that matches saliva, between 6.2 and 7.6. The further the pH of a drink from this range, the more harm it will do to your teeth. If you would like to see a more extensive list of the pH of popular drinks and specific flavors, see this study.
Are Energy Drinks any better?
As you can see from the chart, the answer is no. However, remember the study showing that greater quantities create greater risk. If you drink the smaller sized “shots” you are still exposing your teeth to high acidity, but since you are only taking a few drinks rather than drinking an entire bottle, there is less time that your teeth are exposed to very low pH levels. So, if you choose to consume energy drinks, opt for the shot size, not an entire can or bottle.
What about Soft Drinks?
Soft drinks usually have a very low pH and diet options are often even more acidic. Many types of soft drinks come with additional risk to your teeth. The high acidity thins your enamel, while the high sugar content feeds the bacteria that cause cavities. Additional, soft drinks stick to your teeth even better than saliva does!
Many different studies have found that soft drink consumption leads to a much greater risk of cavities (3). One study found that drinking soft drinks three times a day increases your risk of cavities by 179% (4).
Many sport and energy drinks also contain plenty of sugar, but not nearly as much as the average soft drink. Don’t forget to check the labels to see how much sugar is in the drinks you choose!
Is Fruit Juice any better? It looks like it is just as acidic.
This is completely true. The juice usually has a lower pH than the fruit, with more concentrated acidity. That is one reason why it is always better to eat the fruit, rather than drinking juice. Grapes, for example, have a pH of 3.5 – 4.5, while grape juice is usually has a range of 3 – 4.
Fruit juice does have an advantage over other acidic drinks because it contains nutrients that are beneficial to your body. Fruit also contains fiber, which helps clean the teeth and aids your digestive system. Just remember, it is important to consume fruit juice with no added sugars. You can read more about how to find hidden sugar in foods and drinks in this article.
Tips to Protect Your Teeth
Drink water instead!
Choose drinks with a higher pH (lower acidity) and less sugar.
Drink it quickly. Don’t sip the drink over a long time because it increases the amount of time that you are bathing your teeth in acid.
Take a sip of water when you are finished drinking an acidic drink to help rinse it off your teeth.
Minimize the number of acidic beverages you drink in a week.
Never drink sport drinks, soft drinks, or juice right before you go to sleep or throughout the night.
Practice excellent oral hygiene, brushing your teeth at least twice a day.
Use a toothpaste with fluoride or other remineralizing agents.
Eat plenty of calcium to help your teeth stay strong. Dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and many types of nuts contain a lot of calcium.
Get regular checkups and cleanings. This will protect your teeth and help us find problems while they are small and more easily treated.
Finally, if you simply don’t like the taste of water, try infused water. Add any combination of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to your water then let it sit a while. Even if you add lemon or orange slices, it will still be far less acidic than juice, soft drinks, or sport drinks. Add slices of strawberry, cucumber, and lemon to your water for an incredibly refreshing drink. If you would like some ideas, here is a link to 23 infused water recipes.
We know that it is hard enough to stay hydrated if you are outside in our summer heat without worrying about harming your teeth. So, we hope these tips and information help you stay hydrated and keep your teeth healthy. Thank you for trusting us with your family’s smiles!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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Kaye, G. (2017). The Effects of Sports Drinks on Teeth. The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences, 10 (2).
Baliga, Sharmila et al. “Salivary pH: A diagnostic biomarker.” Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology vol. 17,4 (2013): 461-5. doi:10.4103/0972-124X.118317
Shenkin, Jonathan D et al. “Soft drink consumption and caries risk in children and adolescents.” General dentistry vol. 51,1 (2003): 30-6.
Ismail, A I et al. “The cariogenicity of soft drinks in the United States.” Journal of the American Dental Association (1939) vol. 109,2 (1984): 241-5. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.1984.0346