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Battle of the Sugar Super Villain: The Dangers of Sports Drinks


Would you allow your child to eat 14 teaspoons of sugar?

Of course not, yet most parents are shocked to learn that several popular sports drinks can contain the equivalent of seven to 14 spoons of sugar and pack 200 or more calories devoid of nutritional value. The health dangers of consuming too much sugar are evident from the skyrocketing numbers of children diagnosed with obesity or type 2 diabetes. At Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, we see additional ramifications of excessive consumption of sugar-laden drinks, including cavities and eroding enamel.

If sugar is natural, then why is it bad for you?

Advertisers promote sports drinks as a nutritious way to quench thirst while replenishing electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during exercise. Cooling off doesn’t have to come with the dangerous side effects..

When consumed, sugar acts like a super villain, bonding with the bacteria in your child’s mouth to create acid, which then attacks teeth, weakens tooth enamel and forms cavities.

The proportion of sugar in many popular drinks thought to re-hydrate or provide refreshment during summer is staggering. Many drinks parents consider to be healthy are loaded with sugar. Children who drink sugary drinks regularly have a higher risk of dental disease.

At Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, one of the largest nonprofit dental health providers for children, we advise parents to eliminate many beverages from their children’s diet. After learning about these beverages’ sugar content (see below for examples), parents are eager to find better ways to hydrate their kids this summer.

  • Giving eight-ounce glass of orange juice is equivalent to six sugar cubes.
  • Just one regular-size can of cola is sweetened with almost 10 sugar cubes.
  • Most energy drinks are hyped up with nearly 16 sugar cubes.
  • Even vitamin water packs in more than seven sugar cubes.

You may not have control over what your children drinks away for home. If these sugary drinks are the only option for your child, encourage them to sip the drink through a straw to keep the cavity-causing liquid away from their teeth. Another quick tip is to have your child rinse their mouth with water vigorously after consuming one of these beverages.

What should kids drink to stay hydrated?

The best year-round beverage for hydration is an old standby: water. Encourage your kids to drink it regularly throughout hot summer days by keeping your refrigerator stocked with easy-to-pour bottles of water. When they are away from home, send them with a reusable bottle so they can keep fresh water handy.

Many children crave the flavor, sweetness and effervescence of sports beverages, sodas, fruit juices and smoothies. You can still satisfy that craving by boosting the appeal of water with some exciting additions, such as slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or watermelon. Even sparkling water is a fun and dental-friendly option.

The Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source also recognizes naturally sugar-free tea as a low-sugar choice, and Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County recommends choosing a blend without caffeine.

Even the best diet can’t replace the importance of daily dental care. Children should brush their teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, followed by flossing as taught by a dental hygienist. Don’t forget to schedule dental checkups every six months for your child, beginning when the first tooth comes in or by your child’s first birthday. With these tips, your child will stay hydrated this summer, and adopt good dental hygiene practices that will last a lifetime.

Richard Mungo, DDS, DMD, Med., a founding board member of Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County and a pediatric dentist in Huntington Beach, brings 28 years of experience to the oral health care field. He also serves as part-time faculty at the USC School of Dentistry and is a lecturer at the UCLA School of Dentistry. Because of his position as a leading pediatric dentist who brings accessible oral health care services to underserved and special needs children in Orange County, the Regional Center of Orange County and other organizations have awarded him multiple honors.

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  1. Where in gods name did you get your information about sugar causing type 1 diabetes! Seriously you need to re-write your mis-imformef article and replace TYPE 1 DIABETES with TYPE 2!!!!!

    • “Mom of a Type 1 Diabetic” is correct. We deeply apologize for the typo and we’re making the change.

      The diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common in U.S. kids and teens, especially in those who are overweight. Some studies report that between 8% and 45% of children who’ve been newly diagnosed with diabetes have the form known as type 2. (This info and stats are from award-winning KidsHealth from Nemours, which is one of the largest nonprofit organizations devoted to children’s health.)

      Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder and the cause is not clearly known.

      Thank you “Mom of a Type 1 Diabetic t” for bringing this typo to our attention.

      -Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County


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