Do Sports Drinks Cause Cavities?

Q.  Hi Gale: Have you (or anyone you know) had any problems with getting cavities while doing long rides in preparation for Ironman races? Recently, I had to undergo a filling—plus the dentist says I have the potential of another one.

I usually sweeten up my Gatorade (or whichever concoction I ride with) and am thinking that's the culprit causing me cavities. It seems to be more of an issue now that I've started doing rides three hours and longer. This is a tough issue for me because I want calories and electrolytes too. Comments? -T.M.

A.   Hey T.M. I decided to contact my personal dentists and a periodontist friend to see if they had any insight into the issue. I contacted these specific doctors because they are endurance athletes.

Tooth Decay

What I found out from Dr. Theo Mioduski is that there are normal bacteria, flora, that live in our mouths. Turns out these little critters are carbohydrate-hungry. When they consume leftover carbohydrates in our mouth, they essentially release acid as a bi-product. This acid is what can breakdown the teeth and cause cavities.

In the case of most endurance athletes, the flora don't have to wait long or look very far to find a ready supply of carbohydrates in the form of sports drinks, sticky chews, tacky bars, gels and candies to name a few. More than likely it's not the amount of drink or food that is the problem; rather it is likely the frequency of available carbohydrates and acid exposure that is causing problems. Endurance athletes commonly consume carbohydrates every 15 to 30 minutes over the course of some two to six hours. In some cases, this is done multiple days per week.

Gum Disease

Dr. R.T. Singiser said he is not aware of any research associating sports drink consumption to periodontial (gum) disease. However, he noted that there have been in vitro studies which have shown that sports drinks can be as damaging to tooth enamel as cola drinks. This is because many sports drinks are not only sugary, but they contain citric acid and other additives that contribute to enamel erosion. The combination of acid and sugar is very damaging to tooth enamel.

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