Athletes and Tooth Decay: The Surprising Connection

Athletes and Tooth Decay: The Surprising Connection

Studies find that, on average, despite taking care of their physical health, many athletes have more tooth decay than their peers.

Athletes are known for taking excellent care of their bodies so they can perform at the top of their game. However, a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that of 278 athletes tested at the 2012 London Olympics, 55 percent had untreated dental caries and 76 percent showed signs of gingivitis despite having a dedicated brushing and flossing routine. In fact, 94 percent of study participants admitted to brushing twice daily, while only 75 percent of the average population claims to do the same.

But why?

Possible causes could be a high carbohydrate diet, sports drinks, energy gels, carbonated beverages, energy bars, decreased saliva flow during exercise, and in top-level, elite athletes, exercise-induced immune suppression.

Sports drinks, energy gels, and carbonated beverages are acidic and many contain added sugar for a jolt of energy. Sugars and acids wear away the enamel of your teeth causing sensitivity and tooth decay. Once enamel dissolves, it won't regrow.

Citrus fruits like oranges are often sucked on for bursts of energy, but they are highly acidic and can also cause demineralization of your tooth enamel if frequently eaten.

Carbohydrates like bread and pasta give athletes extra energy because they are broken down by the body as glucose, giving them a little oomph to get through a workout or competition. These starches can also sit on teeth and cause decay.

Plaque develops when foods containing sugar or carbohydrates are left on the teeth. Bacteria eat the plaque and excretes acids that wear away the enamel of the teeth. If plaque isn't removed well enough it can also cause gum disease and bone loss.

For athletic patients with braces, extra care needs to be taken. Sports drinks, energy gels, and high carbohydrate diets can cause decalcification around dental brackets. If not thoroughly removed, the decalcified spots can leave permanent white marks on your teeth or create cavities.

Even patients with removable aligners should be careful and brush thoroughly after eating and remove their appliances when drinking anything except water. If you can't take your aligners out while drinking a sports drink, remove them and rinse with water as soon as possible to prevent the sugars and acids from lingering on your teeth.

Avoiding Decay

The best way to reduce the risk of tooth decay while you are in orthodontic treatment is to opt for water. It’s is simple to digest and perfectly hydrating. However, if your regimen requires the use of sports drinks or energy gels, consider using a straw and rinsing with water after you eat or drink to reduce the risk of decay.

Brushing for two minutes at least twice a day and flossing at least once daily can also help keep your mouth healthy.

If these measures still don't help prevent you from being in the treatment chair, your doctor may recommend a fluoride rinse.

Remember that for an athlete in braces, you must be even more diligent with your home care routine, and it is extra important to see your dentist and hygienist regularly to deep clean areas you just can't reach with a toothbrush and floss.


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Our team is excellent at managing all your dental needs comfortably and gently. We offer dental services from cosmetic dentistry to family dentistry, implants, tooth-colored fillings, sports dentistry, and dental emergencies.

Dr. Anderson is a caring and gentle dentist aiming to deliver high-quality, affordable dental care. He always takes enough time to discuss with his patients their dental needs and understand the best dental treatment suitable for them. As part of preventive care, he works to educate his patients, reducing their need for treatment throughout their lives.

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