Skip to content

Why do elite athletes suffer with their oral health?

October 16, 2020

It seems like a contradiction that simply can’t be true. We think of elite athletes as people in peak physical condition, who would leave no part of their health to chance. But a landmark University College London study found that professional sportspeople’s oral health is statistically worse than that of the general population.

The study examined the oral health of 352 athletes – male and female – across 11 different sports from football to rowing. The stark reality is that athletes are significantly more likely to have oral disease. 49% of the athletes surveyed had untreated tooth decay compared to 27% of adults in England. Perhaps more worryingly, 39% of athletes said their gums bleed when brushing, and 77% were found to have gingivitis.

But why is this, and what can athletes do to improve their oral health?

Why is the oral health of athletes so bad?

The main culprit for these worrying findings has been identified as the supplements, energy drinks, gels and bars that elite sportspeople rely on heavily. Of all athletes surveyed:

  • 87% regularly drank sports drinks
  • 70% used energy gels
  • 59% ate energy bars

Elite sportspeople clearly consume more of these products, more often, than most of the public – but their use is growing quickly among gym-goers and amateur athletes. In the UK, over 10 million people have gym memberships; that’s a lot of people looking for ways to boost their performance.

Sports drinks, gels and bars do this perfectly, with their high sugar content helping replenish lost energy stocks. Unfortunately for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, this sugar content is also damaging their oral health by greatly increasing the likelihood of tooth decay and cavities. Also worrying is the high acidic content of sports drinks and supplements – thought to corrode enamel, and make teeth and gums more vulnerable to the bacteria in our mouths.

If you’re passionate about your fitness, it may be too much to ask to give up the energy drinks. But by knowing the damage being caused to their teeth and gums, you’re empowered to make more informed decisions. This could mean switching to less sugary or acidic alternatives some of the time, or at least changing the way you consume drinks, gels and bars.

Solving the oral health crisis in athletes

The answer to mitigating the most harmful effects of sports drinks and gels lies in focusing on building a strong oral care routine. This is especially true for non-elite athletes, who probably aren’t consuming quite as much sugar as their elite counterparts.

Brushing twice a day, flossing regularly and changing your brush every three months sounds easy. But with a hectic work and training schedule, standards can easily slip – and when they do, your teeth and gums are more vulnerable. This is where the Floe subscription box comes in. Every three months, we’ll send you:

  • A high-quality Curaprox brush – complete with over 5000 bristles
  • Specialist Dawn and Dusk toothpaste – for day and night brushing
  • Activated charcoal floss – to clear plaque from the 40% of your mouth that your brush can’t reach

Floe’s brilliance is in its simplicity. By signing up you let us guide your oral care routine. We’ll deliver your new brush, toothpaste and floss every quarter, meaning you don’t have to remember to replace them. Whether you’re an Olympic champion or a weekend park runner, let us help you to protect your mouth from the sugary products you need to fuel you.

Bitesize news direct to your inbox.

Sign up for Bitesize, our monthly newsletter, for the latest dental tips, healthcare news and more, including 25% off your first box