We’ve had Euro 2016, Wimbledon and the Tour de France but with the Rio Olympics approaching, sports men and women are being reminded to take extra care of their oral health, as research shows athletes are at greater risk of tooth decay and dental erosion.
A report by a team of dental researchers discovered significantly higher tooth erosion in triathletes than in non-athletes. In addition, the researchers found that athletes who engaged in more weekly training had more cavities than those who trained less. The triathletes’ high carbohydrate consumption, including sports drinks, gels, and bars during training, can lower the mouth’s pH below 5.5, which means there is more acid in the mouth.
After the London 2012 Olympics, research published in the British Journal of Sports medicine discovered that more than half (55 per cent) of the athletes had tooth decay. It also revealed more than three in four athletes had gingivitis, which is an early stage of gum disease, and 15 per cent had signs of periodontitis, which is an irreversible gum infection.
Those who are actively involved in sport are in a great position to begin with, as those who exercise are less likely to develop tooth-threatening problems that could lead to gum disease. Many other links between good oral health and good overall health have also been made, including diabetes, lung diseases and heart problems. However, athletes may feel as though they require plenty of energy drinks, which are packed full of sugar, across a prolonged period of time to get them through their respective sports. It is the sustained consumption of too many sports and energy drinks that puts athletes are at risk of dental erosion.
Dental erosion is the loss of tooth enamel caused by acid attacks, a process that can be triggered by consuming fizzy drinks too often. Enamel is the hard, protective coating of the tooth, and if it is worn away, the dentine underneath becomes exposed and teeth can look discoloured and become sensitive. Tooth decay happens when sugar reacts with the bacteria in plaque. Sugars from fizzy energy drinks stimulate the formation of acids that attack the teeth and destroy the enamel. Tooth decay causes cavities and results in the need for fillings, and can also result in tooth loss.
If you are active and take part in sport regularly, it is important to limit the amount of times you have anything acidic or sugary. Using a straw to help drinks go to the back of the mouth will help limit the amount of time a fizzy drink will be in contact with teeth. If the use of energy drinks, particularly amongst children, continues to rise, dental health problems will develop and persist throughout adulthood.