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Ask the Dentist: Why athletes with competitive attitudes to oral health need fillings

Sugary 'energy' drinks and gels render top sports people susceptible to tooth decay
Lucy Stock

ARE you one of the frustrated who brush their teeth three times a day but every time you go to the dentist you need another filling? Well, you are not alone – a recent study has shown that elite athletes suffer the same annoyance.

Athletes approach brushing their teeth like their sport: they do it more frequently and better than most people. So what's going on?

The UCL Eastman Dental Institute research team surveyed 352 Olympic and professional athletes across 11 sports, providing check-ups for male and female athletes measuring tooth decay, gum health and acid erosion.

The study found that that nearly half (49.1 per cent) had untreated tooth decay, most showed early signs of gum inflammation, and almost a third (32 per cent) said their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.

Ninety four per cent of the athletes reported brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and 44 per cent reported regularly cleaning between their teeth (flossing) – substantially higher figures than for the general population (75 per cent for twice-daily brushing and 21 per cent for flossing).

It also highlighted how the athletes regularly use sports drinks (87 per cent), energy bars (59 per cent) and energy gels (70 per cent), which damage teeth.

"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," researcher Dr Julie Gallagher said.

"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."

It's the constant drip drip of sugar that teeth can not withstand. So, if you snack on anything containing sugar, even a tiny amount, you will get decay no matter how much you brush. If you want good teeth avoid sugar and allow your saliva to naturally harden them up.

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