After spending years guzzling energy drinks every day, some of Josh McKee’s molars have been dissolved right down to the gums. The man, from Motueka, near Nelson, kicked his “addiction” to energy drinks over two years ago, but said the sugary substances have led to him have almost half of his teeth extracted and a mouth filled with abscesses. McKee, 28 started drinking energy drinks when he was around 17-years-old. At the height of his addiction, he was drinking up to three cans a day. He’s self-conscious about the state of his teeth, he doesn’t like people seeing the extent of the decay. “It’s embarrassing, I don’t want to smile,” McKee said.
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It’s been more than two years since he gave the energy drinks up, but his teeth are still suffering.
McKee said he knew that the drinks weren’t good for him, but he brushed his teeth regularly and didn’t think too much of it.
“I had a bit of an idea but I just didn’t want to accept it I suppose.”
He said despite what people thought, the drinks were “definitely” addictive and their pull was so strong he remained tempted by the sight of them.
“Still I will go into the dairy to buy milk, see the energy drink fridge, stop and I have to tell myself no, walk away from it.
“Two and a half years later, to me that is pretty extreme.”
His dental problems have had a negative impact on many parts of his life. He has missed work because of toothaches that have lasted weeks, he has spent money having dental work done and missed rent payments.
There are certain foods he can no longer eat.
“I love to eat apples but I can’t because they set my teeth off and hurt my gums and it swells up and the next thing you know I have a toothache.”
Nelson Marlborough Health principal dental officer Dr Rob Beaglehole extracted six of McKee’s teeth last week and said the abscesses were so bad that he was gagging during the extraction.
Next week, he will have four more teeth removed and fillings in another three.
Beaglehole said he always made a point of asking patients with serious decay what they thought the reasons for it were. In McKee’s case, Beaglehole said it was the high sugar content in the energy drinks he had consumed.
When looking in McKee’s mouth, he said some of his lower molars were barely visible above the gums.
“What the energy drinks did actually is they dissolved the back teeth so much that you can’t actually see the tooth anymore.”
Beaglehole said the case, which was one of the worst he had seen, simply highlighted the dangers of sugary drinks and reinforced the need for people to drink water.
Nelson Marlborough Health launched a Tap into Water campaign last year in a bid to encourage schools and sports organisations to adopt water and plain milk only guidelines.
“It doesn’t make any sense to sell products that directly harm kids, in schools.”
National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said thirty years ago, he would have “seriously doubted” an addiction to energy drinks was possible but from clinical experience, he had no doubt it was a real issue.
“People describe a craving and a compulsion to seek out these drinks for consumption even when they know it is putting their health at risk such as tooth decay and contributing to maintaining their obesity.”
Sellman said the combination of sugar, caffeine and certain acids in the drinks gave them addictive qualities.
Along with its taste, the drinks gave an energy boost followed by a drop in positive effects several hours after consumption which could compel the user to want to repeat the experience.
“The recreational food and drink industry employ some of the cleverest food scientists, psychologists and marketers to create the most addictive product, which includes associating these drinks with being in the successful popular in-group.”
He said the industry was extremely clever at ensnaring people into viewing energy drinks as a sign of a successful life.
While health warnings were helpful for some, he said changing the population’s attitude to energy drinks would be most effectively done through government intervention in the market.
That involved stricter controls on marketing of energy drinks, increasing the price through a sugar tax and decreasing the accessibility, particularly to young people.