Why Sports Drinks are Destroying Athletes’ Teeth

What’s so bad about drinking Gatorade while you work out? The trend between consuming sports drinks and dental erosion among athletes may surprise you.


Image via Flickrby fivehanks 

Keeping your body healthy is crucial as an athlete. Successful performance demands dedication to training, eating well, and staying hydrated. Often, athletes will seek help and advice from physical/sports therapists and dietitians to keep their bodies in the best shape possible. Although it seems obvious that athletes must consistently care for their bodies, many overlook a crucial part of their health: their teeth.

Maintaining Oral health is as important as strengthening the body for athletic performance. Rising rates of dental problems in active people —from as young as preschool to older adults— have caused concern for dental professionals. Believe it or not, sports drinks can cause 3 times more damage to teeth than soda. Interestingly, a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found a trend between the consumption of energy/sports drinks and poor dental health among athletes. Even though consuming sports drinks can help improve your performance, it’s important to weigh the risks you are taking to your oral health, too. Here are some crucial facts you should know before you take another sip of your sports drink:

3 biggest dental health issues among athletes:

In the study conducted by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that the most commonly reported dental problems among athletes were tooth decay, gum disease, enamel erosion, and infected wisdom teeth.

Tooth decay

Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in your mouth produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel. This can create holes, or cavities, in your teeth as the acid breaks down the layers of a tooth.

Gum disease

Gum disease (also called periodontal disease) is a chronic infection and inflammation of the gums. This occurs when bacterial plaque builds up over time and turns into a rough, porous substance called tartar. The bacterial plaque release toxins that irritate and infect the gums.

Enamel erosion

Enamel is the hard, semi-clear outer layer of a tooth that provides protection from daily wear and tear. Enamel or tooth erosion occurs when acid wears away the enamel on a tooth, exposing the sensitive dentine underneath.

Infected Wisdom Teeth

This kind of infection can occur when a partially erupted wisdom tooth creates a flap of gum tissue next to the tooth. Food and debris can easily be caught in it, making it a hotbed for bacteria and infections. Although these conditions are not necessarily caused by drinking acidic or sugary beverages, some dentists recommend avoiding high concentrations of sugar to prevent infections from worsening.

Why are athletes vulnerable to tooth decay?

It may seem strange that athletes are especially prone to have dental health issues. Here are a few factors that put athlete’s at a higher risk for tooth decay:

Sugar Consumption

Intra-workout supplements, Sports/Energy Drinks, Soda, and carbohydrate gels are commonly used by active people to maintain energy during exercise. The sugar found in these beverages adhere to the teeth more than saliva and promote acid production for the oral bacteria, putting you at a higher risk for decay.

Acidity Concentration

The enamel and dentine of teeth are weakened and broken down by acids of a pH lower than 5.5. Many sports drinks and intra-workout supplements contain citric acid or malic acid with a pH between 2.4-4.5. 

Frequent exposure to acidic and sugary products

Instead of gulping down a quick sports drink, athletes often take frequent sips during their workouts, exposing their teeth to harmful levels of acidity and sugar. The extended contact time puts teeth at a higher risk of tooth erosion and decay. Rinsing or swishing the sports drink or intra-workout supplement would make teeth even more vulnerable to erosion.

Dehydration/low salivary production

Because dehydration is a common issue among athletes, having a dry mouth and a decreased salivary flow makes them more vulnerable to tooth decay. Saliva protects teeth by clearing and diluting liquids on tooth surfaces. It also provides calcium and phosphate to aid with remineralization and neutralizes the acids in the mouth. Without the proper amount of saliva in your mouth, your teeth are unable to protect themselves against harmful bacteria.

Signs of declining dental health

At the first signs of tooth decay, you should contact your dentist right away. The symptoms listed below are commonly associated with erosion:

  • Mild or sharp pain when drinking cold, hot, or sweet drinks
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Toothache
  • Tooth chipping, especially on the edges of the front teeth
  • Formations of depressions on the biting surface of teeth
  • Pain when biting down
  • Brown, white, or black staining on any part of the tooth
  • Prominent fillings more exposed as tooth is worn away by erosion

Will dental erosion affect athletic performance?

Believe it or not, the state of your dental health can have a huge impact on your performance. Unfortunately, poor understanding of the importance of dental health for athletes is contributing to the rise in dental issues. 

Researchers of the British Journal of Sports Medicine have pointed out that, "With clear psycho-social impacts of oral health, it would be surprising if training and performance were not affected in those athletes with poor oral health.”

The researchers in the same study found that athletes with dental problems are likely to suffer difficulties eating and sleeping, systemic inflammation, pain, and a dent to their confidence, which could very well hinder their overall performance. 

Sports products that may be detrimental to oral health:

Sports/Energy Drinks

Many researchers feel that sports drinks are the main cause for tooth erosion for a number of reasons. Athletes drink these beverages to remain hydrated, sipping them frequently during exercise. Unfortunately, this increases the time that teeth are exposed to the acidity and high sugar content of sports drinks, leaving them vulnerable to decay.

Sports gels or lollies

Sports gels and lollies are concentrated forms of carbohydrates used to provide energy and promote recovery during endurance events. The high amounts of sugar and acidity in these lollies can cause tooth decay because they can easily stick to your teeth.

Intra-workout supplements

The harmful impact of intra-workout supplements on your oral health may seem surprising, as it’s often overlooked. But the high acidity and constant sipping during exercises puts teeth at risk for erosion. 

Ways to promote oral health

  • Using remineralizing agents can help to strengthen and maintain the surface of your teeth. Using products like mouthwash, lozenges, chewing gum, and other specialized dental products can help keep your teeth healthy.
  • Consuming foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese that are high in calcium and phosphate can help remineralize the tooth surface.
  • Avoid sports drinks and lollies if you can. Tap water can be used to provide adequate hydration. If you need carbohydrates, foods like bananas or whole grains are a great option.
  • Talk to your dentist about preventative care for your oral health. Find out a healthy hydration regimen for your work out.
  • Drink out of a straw if you choose to consume acidic or sugary beverages. The less contact with your teeth, the better.
  • Consider diluting acidic and sugary drinks with water to reduce their harmful effects.
  • Don’t brush your teeth right after you consume a sports drink. It takes about 30-45 minutes of saliva contact to begin recovery and repair for your teeth.
  • Avoid sugary/acidic drinks right before bed.
  • Read the ingredient labels before you consume drinks of any kind. Avoid high amounts of acid and sugar, especially if you already have teeth problems.

Just as an athlete must care for his or her muscles, one must also maintain oral health to make sure they have a lasting smile to match their strong body. Want to know more about taking better care of your teeth? Check out our blog for more tips on oral health and savings on dental procedures.

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