Children and teenagers are bombarded with marketing messages that influence their health choices, behaviours and lifestyles. For dentists, one of the most concerning trends is the increased consumption of sports drinks due to the dental health risk they can pose – for kids in particular.
When it comes to athletic performance, sports drinks can provide a useful energy boost as they are formulated to contain a balance of water, electrolytes and sugar that are quick and easy for the body to absorb.
Taken on immediately before, during and after training or competition can aid your preparation, effort and recovery, so you’ll often see athletes using these drinks during competition, which adds credibility to the marketing messages we see on TV, print and other marketing campaigns.
One of the issues that come from this is that the words sport and exercise are sometimes seen as synonymous with ‘health’. Without an understanding of nutrition and biology, it is easy for young people to see fit, athletic people consume high-energy sports drinks and think those drinks are OK – even beneficial – to drink outside the context of sport and exercise.
In fact, high-calorie drinks are one of the main reasons for the increase in obesity, particularly among young people, in recent decades. They are also one of the main causes of tooth decay.
Sports Drink Consumption in the UK
A 2016 Cardiff University study of 160 teenagers found that nearly 90% had consumed sports drinks, while almost half did so at least twice a week. By far the most popular of these drinks is Lucozade Sport. One of the most interesting, and perhaps worrying, facts that emerged from the study was that sports drinks were not necessarily drunk during physical activity, with 51.4% of girls and 48.5% of boys drinking them socially.
The recommended daily intake of sugar is 30g for people over 11 years old. Many of these drinks contain well over 50% of that amount within a 500ml bottle, which is a big hit for your teeth as well as the rest of your body if consumed regularly.
Little wonder then that around half the 15 year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have tooth decay, with NHS pages such as this one citing sugary drinks as a key reason.
Reducing the impact of sugary drinks on teeth
While groups such as Public Health England campaign to reduce the amount of sugary drinks that children and young adults consume, what can be done to reduce their impact on teeth? Here are a few tips:
- Wait 60 minutes after consuming sugary foods and drinks before brushing teeth, so that the tooth enamel can reharden first.
- Don’t consume sugary drinks soon before going to bed.
- Avoid swishing the sports drink around in your mouth before swallowing, so that you reduce its contact time with teeth.
- For the same reason – sip these drinks through a straw if possible to bypass your teeth.
- Try to stay well-hydrated in general with water, as a lack of saliva in the mouth means that sugary drinks are less diluted, increasing the negative effect of sugar on the teeth.
- Avoid seeing sports drinks as necessary for hydration – they can aid performance during intense exercise and competition, but water is perfectly adequate for general hydration, including during normal exercise.
If sports drinks are designed for use during sport and exercise then the fact that they are drunk socially suggests they may be over-used, and reducing their day to day consumption amongst kids and teenagers can only be a good thing for their dental health.
If they are going to drink them frequently though, then following the tips above is important to help reduce the risk of tooth decay.