A new study published in General Dentistry showed that energy drinks can damage the enamel of your teeth, and possibly with irreversible effects as enamel doesn’t return once it’s gone. And it’s the citric acid – most commonly found in citrus fruit juices – that’s doing most of the damage.
Citric acid is used in products like energy drinks to add a tart bite, and also to lengthen shelf life as it acts as a natural preservative.
The study was prompted by the statistic that an estimated 30-50% of teenagers are drinking energy drinks on a regular basis, meaning the primary concern is with kids. The most alarming part about damage done to tooth enamel is that it leaves the teeth prone to cavities and decay.
Lead author in the study, Poonam Jain, is an associate professor in the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Concerning the health risks sugar alone can pose, she said, “We are well aware of the damage that sugar does in the mouth and in the whole body – the role it can play in obesity, diabetes, etc. But the average consumer is not very well aware that acid does all kinds of damage, too.”
To determine the damage citric acid can really have on teeth, researchers looked at the fluoride levels, pH (acid/basic measurement in water), and the ‘titratable acidity’ (a term that describes acids such as phosphoric and sulphuric acids) in 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks. Researchers also looked at how long it took for saliva to neutralize acid in the mouth. And lastly, how much enamel the drinks removed from teeth.
Researchers placed sliced-up molars in petri dishes and soaked them in the various beverages for 15 minutes, followed by artificial saliva for two hours. They repeated this process four times a day for a total of five days. What they found was that tooth enamel loss occurred with both sports and energy kinds, but that energy drinks took off much more enamel than the sports drinks.
The concern? Beverage companies are not required to list the amount of citric acid in each drink on the label, leaving buyers clueless as to what they’re consuming. And the American Beverage Association (ABA) claims that such drinks alone cannot be blamed for tooth damage.
In a formal statement, the ABA argued that “It is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages or any other single factor for enamel loss and tooth decay (dental caries or cavities). Science tells us that individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person’s dental hygiene behavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up.”
But beyond just oral health, Poonam Jain also says that concern carries to other parts of the body, and that consuming too much citric acid has been shown to cause bone loss and even kidney stones. “This has become a big concern because more people are drinking more of these drinks and less milk.”
This study shows that the consumption of energy drinks and citrus juices, especially lemon juice, should be limited especially in children, due to the adverse affects they have on oral health. Not to mention, energy drinks are also incredibly unhealthy for kids due to their high amounts of caffeine and sugar. So Jain would recommend keeping these types of beverages to a minimum, and milk instead, in abundant supply.