Dentists routinely caution patients about the over-consumption of soda pop, juice and sports drinks that pack little if any nutritional value and take a toll on teeth.
Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is taking aim at energy and sports drinks, saying that in most cases, kids don’t need them and some products contain substances that can be harmful to children.
In the June issue of Pediatrics, the report’s co-authors point out the differences between sports drinks and energy drinks.
Sports drinks—which contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring—are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities, but in most cases they are unnecessary on the sports field or in the school lunchroom.
“For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best,” said Holly J. Benjamin, M.D., co-author. “Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay. It’s better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals.”
Energy drinks contain substances not found in sports drinks that act as stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine.
Caffeine—by far the most popular stimulant—has been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems. Energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents, said Dr. Benjamin and co-author Marcie Beth Schneider, M.D. In general, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided.
“In many cases, it’s hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label,” Dr. Schneider said. “Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda.”
Routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks by children and adolescents should be avoided or restricted, AAP recommends, because they can increase the risk of overweight and obesity, as well as dental erosion. Water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.
“There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products,” said Dr. Schneider. “Some kids are drinking energy drinks—containing large amounts of caffeine—when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous.”
Frequent drinking of soft drinks may be linked to obesity, diabetes and dental erosion, said Dr. Brett Dorney, a dentist and past president of the Academy of Sports Dentistry. The consumption of these drinks has increased 300 percent in the last 20 years, and serving sizes have ballooned from 185 grams in the 1950s to 500 grams in the 1990s.
“Sports drinks have erosive potential,” Dr. Dorney said, adding that the degree of damage will be influenced by the pattern of consumption, salivary flow rates, saliva buffering capacity, pellicle formation and the tooth surface’s chemical composition.
“Athletes will most often consume sports drinks after exercise when the volume and protective effects of saliva will be reduced,” said Dr. Dorney. “The erosive acids in sports drinks have the ability to dissolve even fluoride-rich enamel, which normally inhibits dissolution by the weaker acids, causing caries.”
Dr. Dorney encourages his colleagues in dentistry to caution patients—and parents of young patients—about the negative properties of sports drinks.
“To minimize dental problems, advise parents and athletes to hydrate with water before, during and after sports,” he said.
If sports drinks are consumed:
- reduce the frequency and contact time;
- swallow immediately and do not swish them around the mouth;
- rinse mouthguards only in water;
- seek out dentally friendly sports drinks;
- discuss training and hydration protocol with a dentist.