The university's schools of sport and exercise sciences and dentistry said that during a joint study in which intensive exercise conditions were recreated, it appeared that some sports drinks can cause up to 30 times more enamel loss than water.
During the study participants - wearing mouth protectors to shield their own teeth with enamel samples mounted into the gum shield - tested two different types of sports drink and water.
The athletes carried out 75 minutes of exercise - a running bleep test in the gym - and drank the same beverage every day for three-week blocks.
At the end of the trial, the researchers said they found that water caused no erosion to the enamel panels, while a performance sports drink caused up to 30 times more erosion. A low-erosion prototype drink had a similar effect to water, suggesting that there is an alternative to high performance drinks.
"Tooth erosion can be a significant problem as when the enamel is dissolved the tooth becomes a lot more sensitive. Eventually the hard dentine and pulp can be exposed, leading to infection," said Dr Tony Smith, head of research at the school of dentistry. "This study has shown that whilst an existing sports drink was erosive, it has been possible to formulate this new sports drink with negligible erosive potential."
Dr Asker Jeukendrup, director of the university's human performance laboratory, suggested that this was a wonderful opportunity for makers of sports drinks to take up the baton and start developing "future products with low-corrosive potential that could benefit the teeth as well as the endurance of sports people at all levels".
Previous trials of sports drinks have shown that they are beneficial to athletes by improving hydration and boosting energy. Elite athletes consume between 5 and 10 litres of performance drinks a day during training. A higher acidity level in sports drinks is included for taste and to increase the shelf life of the product. However, sports people are at particularly high risk of tooth erosion, as they have dry mouths so do not produce enough saliva to regulate the acidity of sports drinks.