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When “healthy” food is bad for your teeth

A recent study published in the British Dental Journal found that Olympic and professional athletes could be damaging their teeth by regular using sports drinks, energy bars and gels.

Researchers from University College London surveyed 352 female and male athletes across 11 sports, including cycling, swimming, rugby, football, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics. The findings showed 94% of athletes brushed their teeth twice a day, compared with 75% of the general public, while 44% flossed regularly, compared with 21% of the public.

Yet despite their excellent oral health practices, the research indicated a substantial prevalence of oral disease in elite and professional athletes. The dental check-ups revealed substantial amounts of oral disease as reported in a 2018 paper, finding that nearly half (49.1%) had untreated tooth decay, the large majority showed early signs of gum inflammation, and almost a third (32%) reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.

 It is believed that this is a result of a higher-than-average consumption of sugar-laden sports drinks, protein bars and energy gels.

 “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,” said researcher Dr Julie Gallagher (UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance).

“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.”

It’s a good reminder to stay away from processed foods and bottled or canned drinks, no matter how “healthy” they purport to be. Fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and plain water is best not only for your general health, but also for your teeth.


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