Elite athletes have poor oral health, likely due to love of sports drinks

23 Aug 2019

Image: © Jacob Lund/Stock.adobe.com

Elite athletes who brush twice a day are still succumbing to many oral diseases, with sports drinks a likely culprit.

While we think of elite athletes as being very conscious of what they put into their bodies, new research from University College London (UCL) has found evidence that this isn’t so much the case when it comes to oral health.

Publishing their findings in the British Dental Journal, researchers surveyed data from 352 Olympic and professional male and female athletes across 11 different sports, who underwent dental check-ups measuring tooth decay, gum health and acid erosion.

The researchers also asked athletes what they did to keep their mouth, teeth and gums healthy. This revealed that almost half (49.1pc) of the surveyed athletes have untreated tooth decay, with a large majority showing early signs of gum inflammation. Additionally, 32pc reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.

Rather than not taking care of their teeth, the vast majority of athletes claimed the opposite was true. For example, 94pc said they brush their teeth twice a day and 44pc reported flossing. When asked about their diets, a significant number of athletes reported consuming sports drinks (87pc), energy bars (59pc) and energy gels (70pc).

“We found that a majority of the athletes in our survey already have good oral-health-related habits in as much as they brush their teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly, don’t smoke and have a healthy general diet,” said researcher Dr Julie Gallagher.

“However, they use sports drinks, energy gels and bars frequently during training and competition. The sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion. This could be contributing to the high levels of tooth decay and acid erosion we saw during the dental check-ups.”

Previous research undertaken by UCL’s Eastman Dental Institute also showed athletes may face an elevated risk of oral disease caused by a dry mouth during intensive training.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic