The truth about gels and sports drinks

Dr Alistair Graham
Dr Alistair Graham

If I was to design something that would dissolve out the minerals from teeth and feed the bugs that live in the mouth it would go something like this: make it a drink with a low pH, say 2-4, to dissolve the calcium from the tooth enamel, make it very sugary to feed the bacteria, and try to get the person drinking it to sip it in small, frequent bursts. I’d also get the person to try to breathe through their mouth so it dries out the mouth and prolongs the damaging effects.

It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? In a recent study, Powerade was found to have a pH of 2.7. To put that in context, Orange Juice has a pH of 3.6 and Vinegar 2.2. This low pH is the most damaging effect of the drink, in that it dissolves the Calcium Phosphate in the tooth enamel and once this happens, holes start forming. All of this before you begin to feel anything from the teeth, so you don’t notice it happening. The body has a natural acid buffer, saliva, but it takes 40 mins after a drink for the protective effect to start working. So if you are sipping frequently the teeth never get a chance to recover, and if you are breathing through your mouth (who doesn’t while exercising?), the situation is even worse as it dries out the mouth.

Okay, I’m sure your own Dentist has told you all of this before, and I’ve done it many times as well. But as Triathletes we need to have these drinks and gels, and simply giving advice of ‘don’t have them’ is just not practical. Besides, after a good workout on a hot day, a cold drink tastes great. So here is my advice for limiting the damage and ‘living with drinks and gels

Limit their use
For a workout of an hour or less, do you really need to take a sports drink and sip on it throughout? Instead, maybe use water and then at the end of the session have a sports drink to refuel followed by a ‘water chaser’.

Long sessions
Electrolyte drinks are vital for the long sessions, so use them every so often throughout, but have a water chaser immediately after, and swill it around your mouth.

Tooth Mousse
This is a product that you can get at your Dentist’s, and I certainly recommend it to my patients who are athletes. It’s a Mousse that is derived from milk, and is packed with Calcium and Phosphate. This is then applied nightly after brushing and left on the teeth. The minerals soak into the tooth enamel and the saliva and help re-mineralise the early holes. It can even work to stop small holes, and turn them back into healthy enamel.

Regular Visits to the Dentist
Of course as a Dentist I would say this, wouldn’t I? However, most of the damage to teeth is done long before you feel any pain, and so as Dentists we try to spot these problems and turn them around before they develop further. Another reason is to stay on top of another painless problem, gum disease, and maintain your teeth and gums in as best of health that they can be. Gum disease is linked to Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes and Parkinson’s, so it’s a good idea to attend for regular Maintenance visits every 6 months. You wouldn’t leave your bike chain for years and years without cleaning it, so why would you leave your mouth????

Health insurance and payment plans

A portion of the costs may be covered by private health insurance, for patients with a comprehensive extras policy. At Mona Vale Dental, we offer health fund rebates and accept HICAPS, which means you only pay for the gap.

We also offer interest-free, extended and flexible payment plans so that people may get the procedure straight away (but pay gradually for the treatment).

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