01 September 2019
Athletes have poor teeth despite brushing

Around half of elite athletes in the UK have signs of tooth decay compared with around a third of similarly aged adults.

Scientists from University College London (UCL) interviewed 352 British competitors from 11 sports, including cycling, swimming, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics as well as rugby and football.

The research shows that they were far more likely to brush twice a day and floss between their teeth, but still struggled.

The research showed:

94% of athletes brushed their teeth twice a day compared with 75% of the general public

44% flossed regularly compared with 21% of the public.

Smoking rates and overall diets were also much better in the elite athletes. “However, they use sports drinks, energy gels and bars frequently during training and competition,” said Dr Julie Gallagher, one of the UCL researchers. “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 check-ups.”

At the pinnacle of elite sport, the difference between winning and losing is tiny, so even marginal improvements can make a crucial difference. “Athletes were willing to consider behaviour changes such as additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits and reducing their intake of sports drinks, to improve oral health,” said Dr Gallagher.

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