Athletes suffer more dental health issues than average despite good oral hygiene. Their sports nutrition is the culprit - use this guide to make sure your teeth aren't slowing you down
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There's no question - athletes have better dental hygiene than the average:
- 94% of athletes brush twice per day compared to the UK average of 75%
- 44% of athletes floss regularly compared to the UK average of 21%
As Dr Julie Gallagher from the UCL Dental Institute explains:
"We found that a majority of the athletes have good oral health 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."
Unfortunately, all this good work is being undone elsewhere as proven in a recent study by University College London where scientists examined over 350 athletes from a range of sports. They studied dental habits and tested a range of health markers with remarkable results:
- 49% of athletes had untreated tooth decay
- 32% said their poor dental health ‘negatively impacted training performance’.
That’s astonishing. One third of athletes are experiencing disrupted training and performance due to teeth issues. Whether through pain, concern or disrupted sleep/rest, dodgy teeth are slowing pros down everywhere and if it's happening to them, despite their ranks of trainers, coaches and more, then us amateurs are at risk too.
One in five athletes attribute poor teeth to missed training sessions
So, what’s going on?
The researchers attributed their findings to athletes’ high sugar consumption:
- 87% regularly drink sports drinks
- 59% regularly eat energy bars
- 70% regularly use energy gels
Back to Dr Gallagher:
“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.”
Sugar. The most prevalent ingredient in ordinary sports nutrition is not only ruining your athletic performance, but it’s wrecking your teeth and destroying your wider health
The World Dental Federation no less states oral health “severely impacts training and athletic performance.”
What more is needed? Athletes consuming ordinary sports nutrition aren’t just negatively impacting their health but also harming their sports performance.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed an astonishing 20% of athletes attributed oral health to poor training and performance at the London 2012 Olympics.
Let’s repeat that: one in five athletes linked poor oral health to disrupted training and performance.
Sports nutrition and dental health - how poor teeth impact performance
Damaged oral health impacts sleep, which we know is crucial for athletic performance and causes inflammation in the gums which spreads to the rest of the body. Inflammation is the root cause of illness and disease and impacts endurance. Wider effects of poor oral health include heart problems and an increased likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
Brushing twice per day? Unfortunately, that along will not keep this at bay
Sports nutrition and dental health - what’s fuelling you?
Take a look at any ordinary sports nutrition products. I’ll bet it contains at least one (if not all) of the following: maltodextrin, sodium benzoate, fructose, potassium sorbate or worse. All are terrible for oral (not to mention general) health.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘You can’t out-train a bad diet’ and yet that’s what we’re trying to do when we train hard but put junk in the engine.
Athletes are driven. We pour our heart and soul into our pursuits and when something impacts disrupts training consistency, we act when possible.
So why aren’t we doing the same with dental health?
Thankfully, change is occurring. Awareness of the fact that sports nutrition doesn’t need to be packed with sugar is spreading like wildfire.
Better Fuel – a prime example that sports nutrition doesn’t need to be packed with low-grade sugar, preservatives and additives
Sports nutrition and dental health - upgrade your oral health
Tackling this issue by simply brushing more – three, four, five times per day? – is clearly not the answer. That’d be like trying to kick a daily McBig Mac habit with a 2-mile jog each evening.
Clearly there’s little athletes can do to improve their dental habits, which leaves just one solution: Consume less sugar.
In every other walk of life, whether you’re educating kids, trying to improve general health or combating mental health, a reduction is sugar provides long-term, substantial benefits.
So, if you want less tooth ache and fewer days off training, stop consuming highly processed, sugar laden sports nutrition.
With everything to gain and nothing to lose and given there’s viable alternatives, why wouldn’t you give it a go?