Are 'healthy' soft drinks actually worse for teens' teeth?

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

there is a 'clear and consistent associations between diet, sports drinks and flavoured water and oral health problems'. ©iStock
there is a 'clear and consistent associations between diet, sports drinks and flavoured water and oral health problems'. ©iStock

Related tags Soft drink Drink

Sports drinks, diet soft drinks and flavoured water appear to be more closely linked to dental problems and obesity in teens than traditional soft drinks, according to surprising new research.

Investigators in Australia found that frequent toothache was more common among the 50% of teens who drink at least one cup of sugary drink per day, and that the link was strongest for flavoured water, energy and diet soft drinks.

The findings of cross-sectional health survey of 3,671 adolescents was undertaken by academics at the University of Sydney and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

It showed that adolescents’ sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake was more consistently associated with negative oral health impacts than unhealthy weight status, and that these associations differed according to the type of the drink consumed.

“A key finding was that the new generation of diet soft drinks, sports drinks and flavoured water showed higher associations than traditional soft drinks,” ​they wrote.

“Consumption was associated with oral health impacts. Reductions in the frequency and volume of these beverages could have significant impact on adolescents’ oral health, and potentially influence weight status.”

Two cups too many?

The prevalence of oral health problems was highest among drinkers of diet soft drinks (17–19%) and lowest among fruit juice drinkers (5–8%).

More than half (54%) of adolescents reported drinking a range of SSBs, and the research found that higher consumption of more than two cups a day was associated with higher odds of negative oral health impacts.

The academics said more studies were needed to understand the association and related factors between diet soft drink consumption and oral health problems.

“While it was not clear why the odds of oral health impacts were four- to five-fold higher among adolescents drinking more than one cup daily of diet soft drinks, future research could explore whether adolescents who drink dietary drinks have prolonged exposure to other sugary foods, (e.g. sucking confectionery) and more research into the effect of artificial sweeteners (e.g. saccharin, aspartame) on adolescents’ oral health is required,”​ wrote the researchers.

They added the clear and consistent associations between diet, sports drinks and flavoured water and oral health problems is of particular concern because they are “marketed and promoted as an alternative beverage choice for adolescents and adolescents perceive these beverages as healthy.”

Study limitations

In relation to obesity, ​around 30% of adolescents in the study who drank more than one cup of SSB daily were overweight.

“However, the prevalence was higher among adolescents drinking the newer generations of SSBs, specifically sport and energy drinks and flavoured water. The prevalence of abdominal obesity was also higher among adolescents consuming these newer generation SSBs compared with other SSBs,” ​stated the researchers.

The researchers acknowledged some weaknesses to the study because in the data came from a population health survey, which was largely self-reported. Furthermore, clinical dental examinations for oral health were not feasible.

“However, the oral health questions are a validated measure of the social impacts of oral health issues used in other dental surveys, and they correlate strongly with the presence of dental caries, the main oral disease affecting adolescents,” ​they concluded.


Source: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12749

“Association between adolescents’ consumption of total and different types of sugar-sweetened beverages with oral health impacts and weight status”

Authors: Louise L. Hardy, et al.

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