What Will Summer Sports Drinks Do To Children’s Teeth?

girl drinking soft drink

Play ball! Summer will soon be upon us, as will those warm days and nights at the baseball/soccer/etc. While many parents are aware of the detrimental effects of sugar on dental health, and reducing soda intake. Unfortunately, they’re overlooking the potentially harmful effects of sports drinks on children’s teeth.

I have to hand it to the sports drink industry: They package their products well. Usually endorsed by top athletes, the sports drinks promise you the replenishment of much-needed electrolytes. The whole approach implies improved performance, and even a competitive edge.

Even though they may be helpful for athletes who participate in heavy-duty physical activity, an article that appeared on the American Dental Association website notes that for the typical sports field or school playground, water wins.

“For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best,” said Holly J. Benjamin, M.D. “Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay.”

The Effects of Sports Drinks on Teeth

I encourage you to read the ADA’s article I linked to earlier. Even though published in 2011, its findings are still relevant and on the mark. It discusses the various substances in sports drinks that act as stimulants, such as “caffeine, guarana and taurine.”

I personally don’t think kids need to be introduced to any stimulants, and the presence of them in some sports drinks is troubling. But as a dentist, I think the effects on teeth needs to be explained.

It’s common knowledge that sugar is bad for your teeth (Dr. Thomas Salinas, professor of dentistry at the Mayo Clinic, provides a detailed explanation why in this article), but what may not be known is that the timing of sports drink consumption leaves your child’s mouth particularly vulnerable.

As Dr. Brett Dorney, a dentist and past president of the Academy of Sports Dentistry notes, “sports drinks have an erosive potential” and that the degree in which they affect teeth will be influenced by the “pattern of consumption, salivary flow rates, saliva buffering capacity, pellicle formation and tooth surface’s chemical composition.”

That’s a lot of moving parts, but in essence what he’s saying is that when you’re exercising, you’re more susceptible to the corrosive effects of sugar. The protective effects of saliva will be reduced as your mouth gets drier and you’re more dehydrated while you exercise.

What can you do? How to keep the kids healthy and hydrated?

Our Old Friend H20

It’s simple, really. Drink water. If you hydrate before, during and after an event, there really shouldn’t be a problem. The issue is that people don’t drink enough water these days – especially kids. Thus, they feel the need to overcompensate with the sports drinks.

If you’re an intense athlete and absolutely must take advantage of the extra electrolytes, etc. of a sports drink, Dr. Dorney recommends you:

  • Reduce the frequency and contact time of the sports drink to your teeth
  • Swallow immediately – don’t swish around the liquid
  • Rinse out your mouth-guard with water
  • Discuss your hydration habits with your dentist

It’s been a particularly rough winter in Wisconsin. By all means, take advantage of the warm summer days and let your kids play ball. Just be sure to fill that cooler up with water instead of sports drinks. Then you’ll get good results – both on playing field and in the dentist’s chair.


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