The Effects of Sports Drinks for Children

September 7, 2018

The unstructured carefree days of summer are winding down and just like that another school year is upon us! This means kids will soon be waking up early and sports will be starting again. With sports comes the need to stay hydrated, but there are many drinks out there that can be deceiving. Many sports drinks are targeted toward kids. Most also have high levels of sugar, which is why kids usually prefer them over plain water. The constant intake of these sugary and acidic beverages though, can have unwanted ill effects on our teeth.

Dental erosion is a loss of mineral in the teeth from external sources like food and beverages. If our teeth are consistently in contact with acidic substances, the remineralization process that repairs our teeth cannot keep up with the demineralization. Ultimately, this leads to a softening of the enamel and loss of total tooth volume. These factors leave our teeth more susceptible to decay. It has been found that most sports drinks are quite acidic with a pH level well below the critical pH of 5.5. Anything with an acidity below this critical pH will begin to dissolve the tooth enamel. See the table below which highlights the acidity of several popular products for athletes.

Product pH
1. Monster Assault: 3.49
2. Red Bull: 3.37
3. Gatorade Fruit Punch: 3.27
4. Propel Mango: 3.23
5. Gatorade Lemon-Lime: 3.07
6. Full Throttle Energy Drink: 2.94
7. Gatorade Cool Blue: 2.92
8. 5-Hour Energy: 2.81
9. Powerade Red: 2.77
10. Rockstar: 2.53

So, now that the acid has done a fine job softening up our teeth, it’s time for the bacteria to feast on all of that sugar. Many sports drinks contain added sugar and some nearly as much as soda! Cavity causing bacteria live on the sugars we consume. They convert the sugar to… guessed it, more acid. It’s also providing a food source for the bacteria so they will continue to thrive. As your tooth structure begins to weaken, a cavity will form and eventually penetrate through your enamel leaving a “hole” in your tooth.

When we consume any acidic drinks or food our enamel is in a weakened state. It might seem that the best way to counteract this effect would be to brush your teeth immediately. However, since the enamel is in a compromised state this can actually cause more damage. The best thing to do is to drink water. This will rinse the remaining sugar off of the teeth. Knowing that most sport practices/events are going to have Gatorade, or other sports drink provided, a way to find a compromise is to make sure that your kids are also going with their own bottles of water. Encourage them to drink this in between and to swish it before swallowing! Water will help to balance the pH of the oral cavity, and help to decrease the likelihood of developing cavities.

Cavities on the teeth of a young child.

These sport drinks were originally intended for athletes engaging in prolonged physical activity, in which case the sugar may not be as much of a concern. In reality though, the average consumer is not an athlete and may be receiving too much sugar and even sodium than is recommended.

The next time you reach for one of these beverages we encourage you to read the label and be sure it’s providing you with what you really need. If you have any doubts, choose water! We hope you all have a great school year and good luck to all the kiddos participating in local sports!







The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences:

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