Sports drinks rot your teeth

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It's the official sports drink of the FA Premier League, the England Rugby Football Union and the British Athletics Federation - but, according to new research, it rots your teeth.

Lucozade Sport, for which Newcastle and England striker Alan Shearer has just signed an advertising contract reputedly worth pounds 1.5m, can leave teeth seriously corroded because of its high acidity and sugar, according to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The drink is the leading brand of "isotonic" sports drinks, which claim to restore to normal levels bodily fluids and minerals lost through exercise. Launched in 1991, it has been promoted by some of British sport's biggest names, including Liverpool footballer John Barnes and sprinter Linford Christie. It has gained 96 per cent of a market worth pounds 18.5m annually in the UK.

But a study of eight sports drinks by Dr Alex Milosevic, of the department of clinical dental sciences at Liverpool University, shows that regular use of sports drinks can soften and decay teeth. According to Dr Milosevic's tests, all eight drinks in the study - Lucozade Sport (lemon), Lucozade Sport (orange) Carbolode, Gatorade, High 5, Isotar, Maxim, and PSP 22 - were above the normal "safe" acidity level. Drinks with a lot of citric acid were likely to be more erosive, and the more "sticky" the drink, the greater the chances of erosion. In the study, the high acidity of Lucozade Sport made it "potentially the most erosive".

In one case, a 23-year-old cross-country and marathon runner who had been using sports drinks regularly for a year found that the enamel of his upper teeth had been eroded to reveal the tissue underneath (known as dentine). The man had few fillings, which suggested he did care for his teeth.

"Dental decay is caused by dental plaque, a bacterial film on the tooth surface which ferments carbohydrates producing acidic byproducts," said Dr Milosevic. "But dental erosion is caused by low pH [high acidity] from sources in the diet, or from gastric acid being brought back up from the stomach."

Dr Milosevic suggests people should avoid sipping or swishing such liquids around the mouth and that they should use a straw or less erosive chilled drinks. Anyone frequently using sports drinks should have regular dental check-ups. With early detection, the symptoms can be treated fairly simply and severe erosion prevented.

For the cross-country runner, Dr Milosevic requested treatment to improve the appearance and reduce the sensitivity of the man's teeth - achieved by providing composite veneers for the palate of his mouth, which were bonded to the teeth with adhesive resins.

Most sports drinks are mainly carbohydrate, usually glucose, maltose or dextrose. Sports players who do not maintain a good standard of plaque control, with frequent use of fluoride toothpaste stand a greater chance of dental decay.

Dr Lynne Smith, director of corporate affairs for SmithKline Beecham, Lucozade's parent company, said the study did not prove a conclusive link between sports drinks and tooth erosion. "The author says erosion cannot be attributed exclusively to sports drinks and that fresh fruit juices and carbonated water also cause erosion," she said. She added that Lucozade Sport in a pouch contained a straw and that "serve chilled" was printed on the pack.

SmithKline Beecham has a sponsorship deal with each of the three sports bodies - the Premier League, the RFU and the BAF - but a spokesman declined to give financial details. The company has had a sponsorship arrangement with the Premier League since 1992. Apart from Manchester United, it also has individual deals with all members clubs, providing the drink free to players for use in training sessions and matches.