Despite an outward picture of wellness and a healthy oral hygiene routine, athletes still tend to have more teeth-related problems than their peers. A recent study, published in the British Dental Journal, found that despite regular brushing and flossing, untreated tooth decay and gum inflammation was still prevalent among elite athletes.
Because they often refuel with high-acid drinks, gels and energy bars – all of which can weaken tooth enamel and damage teeth due to high sugar content and acidity.
The study found nearly half (49 percent) of elite endurance athletes had untreated tooth decay, and the majority of them had early signs of gum inflammation.
Even despite these same athletes reporting better dental hygiene than the general population – with 94 percent brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and 44 percent flossing regularly.
Let’s break it down (so your teeth don’t).
The acid in sports drinks and gels dissolves tooth enamel, a process called decalcification, and can lead to cavities. Once enamel dissolves, it does not come back. The loss and decay are permanent.
Add the sugar from sports drinks and gels to the mix, and the risk to tooth enamel doubles.
Plaque uses sugar and starches as food and expels acid as a by-product. If plaque is not removed regularly by brushing and flossing, the build-up can lead to additional decalcification, cavities, gum disease and loss of the bone that holds teeth in place.
What does this mean for orthodontic patients?
Athletes undergoing orthodontic treatment should be on high alert. Sports drinks are even harder on teeth with orthodontic appliances, such as braces or aligners.
For those wearing braces, visible white marks (decalcification) around your brackets can appear within a couple of months if plaque is not removed. For those wearing aligners, the damage may be amplified and occur all over because the acidic liquid seeps into the aligners and sits against teeth.
Learn more about the risk of white marks on teeth.
Bottom line – skip the sports drinks and gels.
Opt for water or other less-acidic choices. If that’s not an option, consider swishing water after sips, drinking through a straw or brushing and flossing after workouts. A fluoride rinse may also be helpful. See your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and check-up, or more often if recommended.
Be aware that soda, sweet tea, bubbly flavored water and other carbonated beverages can have the same negative effects and should be avoided as well.