A recent study by the British Dental Journal reports that elite athletes have a high incidence of oral disease despite brushing and flossing regularly 1. While these results may not be exactly the same for athletes everywhere, a closer look at the habits of athletes reveals why these results make sense. Athletes need fuel, and what does “fuel” typically translate into? That’s right, many times, these elite athletes are being fueled by sugar and carbohydrates. But are sports drinks really good for you? Let’s look at the details.
Are Sports Drinks Good For You?
Have you ever really considered what is in a sports drink? Other than the refreshingly tangy taste, sports drinks are delicious for a whole other reason. On average, sports drinks contain between 56-76 grams of sugar 2. One 12 ounce bottle of Gatorade contains a whopping 21 grams of sugar. Keep in mind that this is only 12 ounces and many people drink more than this during a sports event. This is close to the amount of sugar that some sodas contain yet sports drinks are considered “healthy” for athletes.
Sure, some companies are beginning to make no sugar and lesser sugar sports drink varieties – but sugar is not the only concern. The acidity content is also considerably high and a cause for concern. Sports drinks have varying pH levels but many are around 3 3. Any substance with a pH under 7 is considered acidic and levels of 2-3 are considered extremely acidic. The pH of 5.5 is termed the “critical pH” as this is the pH at which enamel can begin to dissolve.
So what can this acid do to the teeth? Over time, acid can erode the hard outer enamel. Once the enamel has eroded teeth can become very sensitive as their secondary layer of tooth structure is exposed. Sensitivity is not the only potential consequence, however. When the hard enamel layer has worn away, the tooth is much more susceptible to dental decay as the softer middle layer of the tooth is exposed.
It should also be states that marathon and long distance runners are even more susceptible as many ingest sports gels and chews that are high in sugar but linger longer in the mouth. The thicker and stickier texture of many of these items means that the products are likely to retain in the grooves of the teeth, coating them in sugar.
When To Drink Sports Drinks And How To Care For The Teeth After
So, should all athletes be concerned, or just those at the elite level? I would say that no matter if it’s Pee Wee level or Olympic level, anyone that participates in sports should be aware of the damage that sports drinks and gels can cause. Athletes should also be aware of things that can be done to counteract the sugar and acidity found in sports drinks.
The best thing that can be done is for athletes to use these drinks and gels only when absolutely necessary to replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes. The next best advice is to consume water before and directly after having any of these substances to balance out the pH in the mouth as well as to rinse away excess sugars. Of most importance, an athlete should never brush soon after consuming a sports drink as the enamel is likely to erode much quicker if brushing is performed in an acidic environment. With that said, extra vigilance with brushing and flossing should be taken in those athletes who consume sports drinks and energy gels on a regular basis.
Knowledge for prevention is the best strategy for lowering the oral health disease in many athletes. Keeping this strategy in mind, athletes can maintain both a strong body and optimal oral health!
You can read the full report on this article on the Science Daily website.
1. Julie Gallagher, Paul Ashley, Aviva Petrie & Ian Needleman. Oral health-related behaviours reported by elite and professional athletes. British Dental Journal, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41415-019-0617-8
2. Vanessa Curtis. Sugar In Sports Drinks. https://uichildrens.org/health-library/sugar-sports-drinks Accessed September 19,2019.
3. Kaye, G. (2017). The Effects of Sports Drinks on Teeth. The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences, 10 (2)
Dr. Mikaeya Kalantari has been a practicing pediatric dentist for over 7 years working in both the children's hospital setting and private practice. She has had a wealth of experience treating children of all ages, and medical conditions. When it comes to serving children, she feels the importance of communication between the dentist and parent can not be emphasized enough. Dr. Kalantari practices in her family owned dental office in Mission Viejo, California.