Elite athletes with higher rates of oral disease

risk of tooth decay

According to a new study which looked at the oral health of the UK’s top athletes and risk of tooth decay, despite the fact that this group claim to meticulously brush their teeth well each day, they are exhibiting greater incidence of gum and tooth disease compared with others.

The research was undertaken by University College London (UCL) Eastman Dental Institute and was published in the British Dental Journal. It involved members from 11 of the UK GB teams and covered 352 individuals who either competed at Olympic level or some other professional class. The theme of the study was dental habits coupled with an assessment of dental records.

Respondents claim to have good oral health routines, with “almost 100 per cent reported brushing their teeth the recommended twice a day, compared to only 75 per cent of the general population.” The incidence of flossing was also high in this group; with over double the rate of the general population (44% of the athletes reportedly floss each day, compared with 21% of the general population). As you might expect, other factors such as the amount of exercise undertaken each week and the diets these athletes consumed were also more favourable.

Why are athletes struggling with their oral health?

Report authors suggest the reason for these issues is the energy drinks consumed to aid performance when practising and playing. One UCL researcher commented, “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.”

So, despite working hard to cleanse their teeth and gums at the start and end of each day, the amount of sugar contained within the bars, gels and drinks was having such a detrimental effect that regular brushing wasn’t able to fully mitigate the damage caused between brushes.

What can be done to help?

According to the report, “researchers said athletes need to take more steps to look after their teeth, such as high fluoride toothpaste”, which is something that here at CK Dental in Bristol we recommend to all our patients. This, coupled with a reduced reliance upon heavily sugared products, would be a good step towards helping their oral health. It is likely though that for anyone who relies upon the energy boost provided by these products, they are not going to be very keen to cut these out altogether. If that is the case, making time for interim brushing, after lunch or soon after consuming one of these bars/drinks/gels would be a sensible idea.

For more oral health advice, call 0117 905 9866 to arrange a check-up appointment at CK Dental.