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.

Athlete - FitnessThe 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


Oral Health Foundation

The Oral Health Foundation is a charity that works to improve oral health by providing education, advice, and support to millions of people every year, changing lives for the better. Our mission is to support others in achieving a healthier life through better oral health. Our vision is to live in a world where everybody has a healthy mouth and is free of dental disease. Poor oral health can have a harmful and devastating effect on a person’s life – both for their physical health and mental wellbeing. We are determined to help more people achieve good oral health and have a better quality of life. Sadly, oral disease remains common, across the life course. We are taking the challenge to reduce the harm caused by poor oral health and the responsibility to create a healthier future for everybody. We do this because we believe that everybody deserves to have good oral health. To make sure this happens, by 2024, we will:

    • Work towards decreasing the prevalence of oral disease across communities.
    • Increase the number of people accessing our help and information services.
    • Diversify our range of resources to reach more communities.
    • Successfully campaign for policies which help people achieve healthier lives.
    • Generate new and nurture existing income streams that enable us to deliver our charitable objectives.

We are going to achieve success by:

    • Running awareness campaigns like National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Action Month.
    • Giving anybody who needs it direct support through our Dental Helpline.
    • Influencing policy on subjects like dental access, sugar, and tobacco.
    • Providing consumer advice on oral health care products and working alongside manufacturers to make sure products do what they claim to do.
    • Creating resources and information that communicates positive oral health messages.
    • Working alongside others who share our passion for health and wellbeing.

To find out more about us, visit our website at https://www.dentalhealth.org/

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