Health

Energy drinks a dental concern for teens

Sweetened beverages like diet and energy drinks greatly increase the risk of dental problems. (AAP)

A study of more than 3500 teens has found those who drank one cup of energy or sport drinks per day were five times more likely to have dental problems.

Australian teens must be convinced to get off sugary energy and sports drinks for the sake of their teeth not just their weight, a public health expert says.

A University of Sydney study has found these 'new generation' of sugary drinks highly marketed at adolescents are more strongly associated to dental problems than traditional soft drinks.

Researchers examined the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) on oral health among more than 3500 teens from 84 schools using data from the latest NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey.

The findings, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, an alarming one in five (19.4 per cent) were drinking energy drinks every day. Eight per cent were regularly drinking soft drinks.

In total, 4.1 per cent reported having frequent toothache; and 4.7 per cent had avoided eating some foods because of problems with their teeth or mouth in the past 12 months.

Those who consumed energy and sport drinks, diet soft drinks were twice as likely to report a toothache or avoid food because of their teeth.

Teens who consumed diet soft drinks daily were at a four to five-fold increased risk of toothache.

This could be because they had swapped traditional soft drinks for the diet form because of an existing painful cavity, suggested lead author Dr Louise Hardy from the Sydney School of Public Health and Charles Perkins Centre.

"They believe that the soft drinks contain the sugar so they have swapped to the diet soft drinks, potentially as their own sort of treatment for their oral pain," Dr Hardy told AAP.

The findings are of "great concern" and more attention on the oral health impacts of these 'new generation' drinks is warranted, says Dr Hardy.

The public health expert also says the consistent and strong associations found add to the sugar tax debate.

"In terms of a sugar tax everything is focusing on obesity and the oral health impacts aren't being given the profile that they need to. Because obviously if you have bad teeth, pain in your mouth you are not going to have good nutrition, your diet is going to be put at greater risk," said Dr Hardy.

Part of the problem, however, is the "slick marketing" of energy and sports drinks, says Dr Hardy.

Many teens, she says, have been convinced that energy drinks make them "think better". Parents have also been led to believe that a sports drink after a weekend game of soccer or netball is okay.

"Even our elite athletes don't consume sports drinks in that manner, yet many parents think that this is good because of the slick marketing," Dr Hardy told AAP.

"What we need to to is get kids off the energy drinks and convince them that actually going for a 20 minute brisk walk or a run will give you the same and even greater benefit," she said.

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