Athletes more likely to have poor teeth despite good hygiene habits - study

Professional athletes may be damaging their pearly whites through the regular use of sports drinks, energy bars and gels, according to a new study.

University College London researchers surveyed 352 male and female athletes, including cyclists, swimmers, rugby players, footballers, rowers, hockey players, sailors and athletics competitors. 

The study, published in the British Dental Journal on Friday, discovered that top athletes had poor oral health - despite efforts to look after their gnashers.

The findings concluded that 94 percent of athletes brushed their teeth twice a day and 44 percent flossed regularly, yet their oral health did not line up with their hygiene habits.

"We found that a majority of the athletes in our survey already had good oral health-related habits... they brush their teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly, don't smoke and have a healthy general diet," Dr Julie Gallagher, an author of the study, told the Guardian.

The research expands on previous work by the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, which measured gum health, tooth decay and acid erosion in elite athletes, the Guardian reports.

The research found 49 percent of athletes had untreated tooth decay, and 32 percent claimed their oral health had negatively impacted their training or performance.

The latest study concluded that 87 percent of athletes often consumed sports drinks, while 59 percent ate energy bars regularly. Seventy percent of athletes were also found to use energy gels. All of the above are known to impact oral health.

"The sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity 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," said Dr Gallagher.

Gallagher confirmed that the surveyed athletes were happy to consider behavioural changes, including more frequent dental visits, reducing their sports drink intake and additional fluoride use from mouthwash.