New research shows that elite athletes across a variety of sports very commonly suffer from poor oral health. You might think that it’s because they are too busy training and don’t brush their teeth properly. The thing is, the same research also shows that these athletes have cavities despite brushing twice a day! Let’s take a closer look to see where the problem is. 

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Researchers from the University College London Eastman Dental Institute surveyed 352 male and female elite-level athletes across 11 sports including cycling. They looked at their dental check-ups to measure tooth decay, gum health, and acid erosion and they also asked them about their dental hygiene habits.

© Profimedia

49,1 % had untreated tooth decay

The research team saw that 49.1 % of the surveyed athletes had untreated tooth decay, the large majority showed early signs of gum inflammation, and 32 % reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance. These are high numbers but what’s even more shocking is what they discovered about their dental hygiene habits.

94 % brushed their teeth at least twice a day

This study found that 94 % of surveyed athletes brushed their teeth at least twice a day, and 44 % regularly flossed. These are substantially higher percentages than for the general population where only 75 % brush twice a day and 21 % floss. So, how do these athletes end up with such bad oral health?

© Luk BENIES / AFP / Profimedia

High consumption of sugary drinks, bars, and gels is the problem

The researchers found that 87 % of the surveyed athletes regularly use sports drinks, 59 % eat energy bars, and 70 % consume energy gels, which are all things known to damage teeth.
“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,” said researcher Dr Julie Gallagher.

What can they do to improve?

The researchers suggested even better oral hygiene and cutting back on sugary sports products as possible solutions. Dr Gallagher said: “Athletes were willing to consider behaviour changes such as additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits, and reducing their intake of sports drinks, to improve oral health.”

The research team is already working on a pilot study with the help from these athletes to test if such interventions would have the desired effects. How about you, would you be willing to skip some of your gels on those long, hard rides for better dental health?

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