Energy and Sports Drinks ‘Like Bathing Your Teeth In Acid’

By Amir Khan on May 7, 2012 8:28 AM EDT

Red Bull
As energy drink sales increase, so do ER visits from the neon drinks (Photo: PA)

Drinking a Red Bull or a Gatorade every once and a while probably won't kill you -- but do it too often and you may need to be fitted for dentures. A new study, published in the June edition of the journal General Dentistry, found that regularly drinking energy drinks can rot your teeth after only five days of use.

Up to 50 percent of American teens drink energy drinks daily and up to 62 percent drink sports drinks daily, according to the study. Researchers said most people are unaware of just how much damage these drinks can do.

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"Young adults consume these drinks assuming that they will improve their sports performance and energy levels and that they are 'better' for them than soda," Poonam Jain, study coauthor and director of the community and preventive dentistry program at Southern Illinois University, said in a statement. "Most of these patients are shocked to learn that these drinks are essentially bathing their teeth with acid."

The drinks are actually glorified sodas and contain just as much, if not more, sugar, Dr. David Katz, study coauthor and director of the Yale Prevention Center, told ABC News.

"Bacteria convert sugar to acid, and it's the acid bath that damages enamel, not the sugar directly," he said. "So by incorporating a high acid load in a drink, we are just cutting out the middleman on the way to tooth decay."

Researchers tested 13 different sports and energy drinks to see their effect on teeth. They submerged samples of human tooth enamel in each drink for 15 minutes then in artificial saliva for two hours. They repeated this four times a day for five days then observed how much damage the enamel suffered.

The American Beverage Association criticized the research, saying it's unrealistic to believe that a tooth would be in contact with the drinks for that long.

"This study was not conducted on humans and in no way mirrors reality," the organization said in a statement. "People do not keep any kind of liquid in their mouths for 15 minute intervals over five day periods. Thus, the findings of this paper simply cannot be applied to real life situations. Furthermore, it is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay (dental caries or cavities). Science tells us that individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person's dental hygiene behavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up."

Katz said sports and energy drinks should be reserved for athletes and those undergoing intense training -- teenagers generally do not need them to get going.

"A far better approach would be working to improve sleep quality and quantity and overall health," said Katz. "When these drinks combine a load of acid and sugar, they are detrimental to waistline and smile alike."

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