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By Mara Betsch

FRIDAY, April 3, 2009 (Health.com) — Sports drinks can rehydrate you after a workout, but they also may wreak havoc on your teeth. Prolonged consumption of these types of beverages could lead to erosive tooth wear, according to a study presented at the International Association for Dental Research in Miami on Friday.

And a second study presented at the meeting suggests that drinking white wine can be a problem too: It may lead to stained teeth.

Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, professor and chairman of the department of cardiology and comprehensive care at New York University College of Dentistry, and his colleagues immersed cow teeth (because of their similarity to human teeth) in either water or a top-selling sports drink—including Vitamin Water, Life Water, Gatorade, Powerade, and Propel Fit Water. After soaking for 75 to 90 minutes, to replicate consuming a beverage over time, researchers measured the strength of the teeth.

Previous studies found that sports beverages can damage tooth enamel—even more so than soda—due to a combination of acidic components, sugars, and additives. This research looked specifically at the way sports drinks affected dentin, the dental tissue under enamel that determines the size and shape of teeth.

All of the tested sports drinks caused softening of the dentin, and Gatorade and Powerade caused significant staining. The researchers used cut-in-half teeth in the study, which exposed the dentin.

“Sports drinks are very acidic drinks. When they become your soft drink, your fluid, then you run the real risk of very significant effects, such as etching the teeth and actually eroding the dentin if you have exposed roots,” says Dr. Wolff.

Any beverage that has high acid content can weaken the enamel, making the teeth more susceptible to bacteria that can sneak into the cracks and crevices in the teeth. Sugar can exacerbate the situation, encouraging the bacterial growth, according to Kimberly Harms, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Sugar is bad, and acid is bad, but many of these [sports] drinks have both. The combination causes tooth decay,” says Dr. Harms.

Dr. Wolff says adults shouldn’t choose a sports drink as their everyday beverage, but Dr. Harms says it’s more important for younger people to avoid excess intake. “The group I'm most concerned with are the high schoolers and teenagers, because they carry the drinks around school with them.”

Next page: Better to drink in one sitting than sip all day

Athletes and even sports enthusiasts don’t have to give up their sports drinks completely. “The most important factor is exposure,” says Dr. Harms. Drinking a sports beverage in one sitting is not as damaging to your teeth as sipping on one throughout the day. Other preventative techniques include sipping through a straw and drinking plenty of water to flush the mouth, she says.

However, Craig Horswill, PhD, a senior research fellow at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, says “This study does not replicate real life as the teeth were studied extracted from the mouth.”

He notes that an Ohio State University study of about 300 athletes “concluded that there is no relationship between the consumption of sports drinks and dental erosion.”

Either way, you may want to resist the urge to grab your toothbrush immediately after finishing your sports drink, says Dr. Wolff. “Mom always told you to brush your teeth after meals, but you may be damaging the tooth structure.” The tooth enamel softens after consuming a sports drink, making teeth sensitive to the harsh properties in toothpaste. Instead, wait 45 minutes to an hour before you brush, and let your mouth do the work. “Saliva has the capability of re-mineralizing the tooth structure and neutralizing the damage.”