Energy Drinks and Your Teeth. Should You Worry?

Energy Drinks and Your Teeth. Should You Worry?

We've all been there.  It's been a busy week, and after a few late nights in a row, you're really starting to feel it. You're TIRED. And, the worst part is, it's 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and you're still at work! Yep. You've got the 3pm slump, and what seems like a whole day of work ahead of you yet. Thankfully, there's a vending machine down the hall stocked with all sorts of mid-afternoon pick-me-ups. So you wander down the corridor, yawning the whole way there. You toss in a few bucks, and out comes your savior: hours of liquid energy in a shiny little can. You might not realize, however, that the energy boost you just tossed back comes with a wallop of a price. While it may keep you energized and awake for the next few hours, it's secretly eating away at your teeth - and fast. 

Why Are Energy Drinks Such a Threat to Teeth?

The crux of the problem is the double-whammy that comes from an exceedingly high sugar content and citric acid pH that can be as low as 2.9. Now, pH can be a tricky thing to understand, so to help put that number in perspective a bit, consider this:  battery acid has a pH of 0.0 (so, a lower number means a higher acid content). Stomach acid (which we can imagine as being quite acidic, at least!) has a pH that fluctuates between 1.0 and 3.0. A lemon, in contrast, comes in at around 2.0, a grapefruit at 3.0, and tomato juice at 4.0.  

The real distinction, though, is in knowing that with each increase in numerical value, the acid intensity increases 10-fold. So, in the example above, a lemon ends up being 10 times more acidic than a grapefruit, and 100 times more acidic than tomato juice - a sensation you can certainly taste if you bite into one! In contrast, milk and water have a pH of 7.0, so, it's easy to see the difference in the numbers - they're huge.

The Science

What all this means to your teeth is the real question, though, and precisely what researchers at Southern Illinois University set out to discover in 2012.  The results, which surprised even the research team, showed considerable damage to tooth enamel after only five days of steady consumption. Five days.

To determine the effect of these drinks on our teeth, the research team looked at 22 popular sports and energy drinks, and exposed artificial tooth enamel to the beverages for 15 minutes at a time, four times daily. This schedule was chosen because it mirrors the consumption habits of many users who drink these beverages every few hours - a particularly common habit among those who consume sports drinks. After each 15-minute exposure, the enamel was then placed into an artificial saliva solution for two hours to mimic what would happen once consumption stopped. After only five days on this schedule, the enamel showed a 1.5% loss with sports drinks, and a shocking 3% loss with energy drinks.

The Critics

While critics in the beverage industry suggest the time used to expose the enamel to the drinks may have been excessive, it's widely known that snacking, as well as regular sipping of any beverage other than water, creates acidic activity in the mouth that promotes tooth decay. Also, for weekend warriors, and night shift workers who are prone to drink these beverages several times throughout the day, the time of exposure might actually not be long enough. Either way, there is little doubt that these beverages are not good for your teeth. They're also not good for your belly, and esophagus if you're prone to acid reflux.  

The Middle Ground -- It's about being Informed

We're not asking you to give up your sports beverages and energy drinks. It is wise to know the risks, however, and to have in your arsenal a way to combat some of their side-effects. Here are two quick tips that will help you if you can't shake the habit:
  • Keep water nearby so you can help dilute the acid covering your teeth, while also increasing the saliva production that helps protect your enamel.
  • Don't brush immediately after consuming such beverages. Why? Because in the thirty minutes to an hour after consumption, the enamel of your teeth will be slightly softer, and brushing in this window of time literally ends up spreading the acid around to other parts of your teeth. Not good. If you want to brush, save it for an hour or so later. 
Lastly, here is the breakdown of most caustic to least caustic drinks as found by the researchers.

Sports Drinks:
  • Filtered Ionozed Alkaline H2O – pH: 10.0
  • Water – pH: 7.o
  • Odwalla Carrot juice – pH: 6.2
  • Odwalla Vanilla Monster – pH: 5.8
  • Unflavored Pedialyte – pH: 5.4
  • Vita coco – pH: 5.2
  • Aquafina,Dasani, Smart water – pH: 4.0
  • GU2O – pH: 4.29
  • Powerade – pH: 3.89
  • Accelerade – pH: 3.86
  • Gatorade Endurance – pH:  3.22
  • Monster – pH:  2.7
Energy Drinks:
  • Red Bull – pH: 3.3
  • AMP Energy – pH: 2.7
  • Monster Energy – pH: 2.7
  • Full Throttle  - pH: 1.45
  • Rock Star – pH: 1.5