Written by Dr Nigel Carter OBE for the Blog section of the British Dental Health Foundation Website
We’ve had Wimbledon, the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. With the return of the domestic football season, sports men and women across the country are being reminded to take extra care of their oral health ahead of a busy summer of sport.
Top athletes may be putting their oral health at risk though their training regime, leading to the possibility of tooth decay and dental erosion.
A new report by a team of dental researchers1 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 Medicine2 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.
Athletes are in a great position to begin with, as people 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.
Athletes require plenty of sugary and energy drinks across a prolonged period of time to get them through their respective sports. However, by consuming too many sports and energy drinks, athletes are at risk of dental erosion. This 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 your child is looking to copy their habits, it is important to limit the amount of times they 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.
1. Frese, C., Frese, F., Kuhlmann, S., Saure, D., Reljic, D., Staehle, H. J. and Wolff, D. (2014), Effect of endurance training on dental erosion, caries, and saliva. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. doi: 10.1111/sms.12266
2. Oral health and impact on performance of athletes participating in the London 2012 Olympic Games: a cross-sectional study, I Needleman, P Ashley, A Petrie, F Fortune, W Turner, J Jones, J Niggli, L Engebretsen, R Budgett, N Donos, T Clough, S Porter, Br J Sports Med 2013;47:16 1054-1058 Published Online First: 24 September 2013