Sports Drinks, Energy Gels and Bars Could Be Ruining the Teeth of Professional Athletes

Sports drinks, energy bars and gels could be ruining the teeth of elite athletes, according to a study.

Elite and professional athletes have a "substantial" amount of tooth problems despite practicing good oral hygiene, the study, published in the British Dental Journal, stated.

Researchers screened 352 elite and professional athletes, 256 of whom were on course to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics. They competed across endurance, strength and power, and mixed events such as team sports. These included swimming, cycling, soccer, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics.

The participants were aged between 18 to 36, with an average age of 25. Of the total, 344 filled out a questionnaire on variables including 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.

Most of the athletes brushed their teeth twice daily, and 40 percent had visited the dentist in the past six months: both considered positive steps for keeping the mouth healthy.

But sports drinks made up the diet of 80 percent of the athletes, which they consumed while training or competing. These acidic products can lead to tooth erosion, the researchers said. Some 58 percent of the participants used energy bars, and 70 percent took gels.

The authors highlighted that such products are marketed without any guidance about oral health.

The risk of dental problems could also be heightened by changes in the makeup of their saliva during and after intense exercise, the team said.

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A stock image of a gym-goer with an energy drink, which scientists have pinned to teeth damage in a study. Getty

The researchers acknowledged their findings were limited as they relied on the participants telling the truth about their habits.

Julie Gallagher of the UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance commented in a statement: "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."

Teeth problems are also common among the general population. In the U.S., more than 80 percent of people have at least one cavity according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than one in four adults have untreated tooth decay.

To keep the mouth in a good condition, the CDC advises drinking fluoridated water and using fluoride toothpaste; brushing teeth thoroughly and flossing, and visiting the dentist regularly. Smokers should quit, and the consumption of alcohol should be limited. Visit the dentist if you have sudden changes in the taste and smell of your mouth, the body states.