Athletes' Teeth May Suffer from High-Carb Diets, Sports Drinks and Eating Disorders

First Posted: Oct 14, 2014 08:44 AM EDT

When you think about athletes, you think that they're in good health. A new study, though, shows that their diet--and teeth--may be suffering. Scientists have found that a high carb diet, acidic sports drinks and eating disorders could be taking a toll on the dental health of athletes.

In order to better understand athletes' health, the researchers included 39 studies on elite or profession sports men and women. These studies showed that poor dental health is widespread and includes tooth decay, gum disease, enamel erosion and infected wisdom teeth. In fact, it turns out tooth decay affected 15 to 75 percent of athletes, moderate to severe gum disease affected up to 15 percent and enamel erosion affected 36 to 85 percent.

That's not all scientists found, either. Athletes from rich countries were actually no less likely to be affected than those from poor countries. Overall, the dental health of athletes was on par with that of non-athletes living in deprived communities.

"With clear psychosocial impacts of oral health, it would be surprising if training and performance were not affected in those athletes with poor oral health," write the authors in a news release.

So why do athletes have poorer oral health than most people? It's likely due to their preference for a high carb diet and acidic sports drinks during training and performance. The impacts of these two factors are worsened by a dry mouth during competition. In addition, eating disorders may also play a role, especially in sports such as boxing, horse riding, gymnastics and long distance running.

"To achieve a sustained effect, oral health should be embedded within other aspects of health promotion, taking into account the structural issues and inter-relationship of athletes within their sport and peer networks," write the authors. "National sport funders and policy organizations should take a lead in integrating such an approach."

The findings are published in the Consensus Statement, which draws on a comprehensive review of the published evidence and a recent symposium on the lessons of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

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