Sports drinks and energy bars could be damaging the teeth of professional athletes, study finds

Sarah Young
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Sports drinks, energy bars and gels could be damaging the teeth of elite athletes, according to a new study.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) surveyed 352 elite and professional athletes, 256 of whom were on course to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The athletes competed across 11 different sports including swimming, cycling, football, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics.

The participants, all aged between 18 and 36, filled out a questionnaire on variables such as how often they brushed their teeth, how much sugar they ate, whether they smoked, if they chewed gum, and when they last saw the dentist.

The majority (94 per cent) of the athletes brushed their teeth twice daily, while 44 per cent regularly flossed.

This compared with 75 per cent of the general public brushing their teeth twice a day and 21 per cent consistently flossing between their teeth.

The study also highlighted that 87 per cent of athletes used sports drinks, 59 per cent used energy bars and 70 per cent used energy gels, which are known to damage teeth due to high sugar levels.

The findings, which were published in the British Dental Journal, found that professional athletes have a “substantial” amount of tooth problems, despite practising good oral hygiene.

The study's authors suggested that the risk of dental problems could be a result of using products high in sugar, such energy drinks and bars, which are often marketed without any guidance about oral health.

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Dr Julie Gallagher of the UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance said: “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.

“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.”

The team also pointed out that previous studies have suggested elite athletes may face an elevated risk of oral disease from a dry mouth during intensive training.

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The athletes who were interviewed said they would consider taking up even better oral hygiene habits to tackle this, such as additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits, and reducing their intake of sports drinks.

Tooth decay is now the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children in the UK, according to the British Dental Association (BDA).

Recent data has revealed that 170 children and teenagers in England are undergoing tooth extractions under general anaesthesia in hospitals in England every day.

Official data has revealed an 18 per cent increase in the number of extractions taking place on children in hospitals since 2012, costing the NHS £205m.

To keep the mouth in a good condition, the BDA advises using fluoride toothpaste, brushing teeth twice a day, quitting fizzy drinks and sugary snacks, and visiting the dentist regularly.

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