Science and Technology News

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The detrimental effects of energy drinks on our teeth

by Air Force Capt. Ryan S. Holbrook
673 MDG, Chief of Periodontics


8/14/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Over the last decade, energy drinks have become a multi-billion dollar industry. Many energy drinks claim the benefits of increased concentration, memory and stamina. However, they are not without risks.

Some of these risks include cardiovascular complications, potentially addictive substances, insomnia, metabolic imbalance, gastrointestinal problems, tooth decay and gum disease.

In order to understand the detrimental effects of energy drinks, we must look at the composition of these beverages. Most energy beverages contain vitamin assortments, herbs and sweetening and flavoring agents - as well as vast amounts of caffeine.

The flavoring generally consists of large amounts of sugar. A diet high in sugar leads to changes in the number and types of bacteria in the mouth. Most problematic is an increase in cavity-causing bacteria, also known as cariogenic bacteria, like Strep mutans.
Cariogenic bacteria consume these sugars and excrete acid as a waste product. That acid breaks down the hard outer shell of the tooth, known as enamel.

This process, if repetitive, may lead to extensive tooth damage, cavity formation and tooth pain. The extent of these dental concerns may be localized to a few teeth or diffuse, affecting all the teeth in the mouth.

Another harmful aspect of frequent energy drink consumption is the high acid content in these beverages.

When energy drinks are consumed, teeth are subjected to a highly acidic environment, leading to enamel erosion as the minerals that make up our teeth are stripped away.
A 2007 study published by General Dentistry revealed that tooth enamel can be dissolved by any substance with a pH lower than 4.0. To put pH values in context, an energy drink like Red Bull has a pH of 2.5 to 3.5 (the lower the numeric value, the higher the acidity is).
Often, people sip on an energy drink throughout the day, which subjects the teeth to a constant barrage of acid.

An additional side effect of energy drinks is their high caffeine content.

Caffeine is a natural diuretic, which reduces the amount of saliva produced, leading to dry mouth. Saliva is a key player in buffering the effects of acidic foods and beverages, and helps the body rebuild tooth enamel. Slowed salivary production leads to increase in cavity formation and weakened tooth structure.

To guard against the often-permanent effects of energy drinks, the wise choice is to limit consumption. A healthy diet, sleep and drinking adequate amounts of water are safe sources of sustainable energy.

However, the occasional energy drink may be safe, dentally speaking. The following are a few safeguards that can be implemented to avoid potentially painful and costly dental work:
  • Limit energy drink intake to one per week.
  • Drink energy beverages within 20 or 30 minutes, rather than sipping over several hours.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after energy drink consumption.
  • Use a straw to avoid contact with teeth while drinking.
  • Brush your teeth an hour after drinking to avoid further enamel erosion.
  • Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol, which has been shown to kill cavity-producing bacteria and promote saliva production.

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