The creators of Red Bull claim the energy drink can give you wings, but what does the sugary, caffeinated beverage do to your teeth? A new study comparing energy drinks to sports drinks like Gatorade finds that the high levels of acidity in the former can wreak havoc on a healthy set of pearly whites. Here's what you should know:
Why focus on energy drinks?
"Young adults consume these drinks assuming that they will improve their sports performance and energy levels, and that they are 'better' for them than soda," Poonam Jain, lead author of the study, tells ABC News. Yet, most unknowing consumers are shocked when they learn the drinks "are essentially bathing their teeth in acid." About 30 to 50 percent of American teens consume energy drinks like Red Bull or Monster regularly, and up to 62 percent drink sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade once a day.
How did researchers test for tooth decay?
Examining 13 different sports drinks and nine energy drinks, the team collected data about pH levels, fluoride, and "titratable acid" — a term that describes acids such as phosphoric and sulfuric acid — by submerging teeth samples in the beverages for 15 minutes. Afterward, researchers immersed the enamel in saliva for two hours, repeating the process four times a day for five days.
What did they learn?
All the drinks eroded tooth enamel, but energy drinks ate into the enamel at twice the speed. Typically, bacteria in the mouth converts the sugar from drinks into acid, which in turn damages the teeth, says Dr. David Katz of the Yale Prevention Center. Energy drinks, which already have a "high acid load," are essentially "cutting out the middleman on the way to tooth decay." This is especially problematic since companies do not have to disclose things like acidity levels on nutrition labels.
What do drink manufacturers say?
The American Beverage Association has, not surprisingly, defended the beverages, calling the research flawed. "This study was not conducted on humans and in no way mirrors reality," said the association in a statement. "People do not keep any kind of liquid in their mouths for 15 minute intervals over five day periods." Jain argues that the drinks cause more than just tooth decay. Too much citric acid, for example, can cause kidney stones and a loss of bone mass. The larger issue, she says, is about making healthier choices: "This has become a big concern because people are drinking more of these drinks and less milk," and that doesn't do a body good.