Athletes often overlook their oral health on their way to achieving athletic greatness. It may not directly impact their daily performance or win them the MVP award, but it may have serious consequences later down the road.
Dental professionals have been concerned with the rise of dental problems in active adults. In a study by the University College London, researchers surveyed 352 Olympic and professional athletes and asked them about what they did to keep their teeth, gums, and mouth healthy. They also provided dental checkups for the athletes and measured their gum health and the amount of tooth erosion and cavities.
Researchers found that nearly half of the athletes they checked had untreated tooth decay, with most already showing signs of gum inflammation. A third of the athletes reported that their oral health negatively impacted their training and athletic performance. They have all these problems despite practicing good oral hygiene.
So, why are there athletes with bad teeth? And is there anything they can do to stop it?
Why Athletes Have Bad Teeth
One of the most common reasons for bad teeth is enamel erosion. Acids in an athlete’s mouth weaken enamel, exposing the dentin layer underneath it to abrasion. This leaves teeth susceptible to cavities and tooth decay.
Some of the factors linked to dental erosion in athletes are:
Acidic Foods and Drinks
Enamel is made of minerals like calcium and phosphate. These weaken when exposed to acidic elements. Unfortunately, athletes consume a lot of acidic foods and drinks. Sports drinks are highly acidic, with a pH range of 2.4 to 4.5. Some workout supplements have citric acid and malic acid as ingredients, which also increases dental erosion risks.
While saliva can neutralize acids and provide calcium, phosphate, and other nutrients that remineralize your tooth, drinking a lot of sports drinks or intra-work out supplements numerous times a day increases the amount of time your teeth are in contact with an acidic elements, risking dental erosion in the process.
Research shows that athletes during intense training sessions consume more foods and drinks that have the potential to damage their teeth.
Acidity is not the only thing that makes sports drinks, workout supplements, and energy drinks bad for an athlete’s teeth. They also contain a lot of sugar that sticks to the teeth. These sugars feed the bacteria in your mouth, producing more acid and a higher risk of tooth decay.
Dehydration and Decreased Saliva Flow
One of the major roles of saliva is protecting your teeth. It dilutes and removes liquids from the teeth surface and neutralizes the acids in the mouth. It also provides your teeth with the minerals and nutrients they need to stay strong.
Unfortunately, dehydration is a common issue in athletes, which causes dry mouth and reduces saliva flow. Without saliva, your teeth are left defenseless and vulnerable to tooth decay and erosion.
Athletic Performance and Oral Health
In the same study conducted by the University College London, researchers also included findings about pain, sensitivity, and dental injuries.
They found that 49.1% of the athletes they surveyed experienced difficulty eating or drinking, relaxing, sleeping, or smiling. Some respondents felt embarrassed about their oral health, particularly when they laughed or showed their teeth.
Around 32% of the athletes felt that their oral health impacted their performance, the amount of training they received, and the competitions they attended. Athletes who experience pain due to oral health problems also experience poor sleep quality, difficulty eating or drinking, and reduced performance and participation in training activities.
Sports Products That Are Not Good for Teeth
Athletes consume these products regularly, but they aren’t good for teeth.
Sports drinks are dangerous for your oral health. Aside from their acidity and sugar content, athletes take frequent sips of these drinks during training sessions, increasing their contact with their teeth. This increases the risk of tooth decay and erosion.
Sports gels are highly-concentrated forms of sugar that can stick to your teeth and cause tooth decay. They also have ingredients that can increase the acidity of gels, further increasing the likelihood of tooth erosion for regular users.
Some people don’t think intra-workout supplements can cause tooth decay. However, they have acidic ingredients and are frequently consumed during training sessions.
What Can Athletes Do for Their Teeth
Aside from avoiding dehydration, here are some things athletes can do to protect their teeth from tooth decay:
Cut down on sugary sports drinks.
Water is always the best drink to quench your thirst. But if you have no choice, it’s best to drink them through straws and avoid swishing them around your mouth. Ditch the sports drinks; sure, they rehydrate you, but they contain so much sugar that can harm your teeth.
Always wear mouthguards.
Mouth guards are made to protect your teeth, tongue, and gums during physical activities. It should be second nature for athletes to wear a mouthguard whenever they’re training or out to play their sport. It’s also best for athletes with dental implants, veneers, and other cosmetic dental work to wear mouth guards for protection. No matter what type of mouth guard you choose, make sure it fits correctly.
Most sports won’t allow you to play without one. Hockey requires all players to have mouthguards. Their mouthguards should be colored to help referees see them better.
Brush and floss daily.
Practicing good oral hygiene habits is and will always be the best way to care for your teeth. A tooth with a lot of decayed parts and full of fillings won’t be as strong as healthy ones. Unhealthy teeth and gums are more susceptible in the face of a sports injury.
Keep your smile strong by brushing for two minutes twice a day. You should also floss at least once a day and use mouthwash regularly to fight off the cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth.
Athletes always strive for the best, but often overlook their oral health. Many athletes have bad teeth due to the highly acidic foods and drinks they consume, like sports drinks, intra-workout supplements, and gels. They are also often dehydrated, leading to increased sports drink consumption.
Athletes can take steps to keep their teeth and gums healthy. They can do this by reducing their intake of sugary drinks, brushing and flossing daily, and wearing mouthguards.
Keep your teeth and gums healthy and strong with Century Dental.
Our dentist near South Pasadena, FL, provides dental services that keep your teeth and gums healthy. They also offer cosmetic dentistry procedures to help you gain confidence so you can face any challenge head-on. Contact us at (727) 367-3133 for any questions or concerns about oral health.