In the last 20 years I have noticed an increase in the number of children with signs of tooth erosion coming into the practice. Tooth erosion, or acid erosion as it is sometimes known, is the irreversible loss of tooth enamel (the hard substance coating the outside of teeth) by acid attack and it is often linked with a change in diet.

The main culprit is carbonated or fizzy drinks. They are everywhere – in vending machines, corner shops, stations and even in some schools. The sale of large bottles at lower prices encourage people to drink larger quantities of erosive sugary drinks or worse still, sip throughout the day.  Sometimes parents are unaware that fruit juice can also cause dental problems because such drinks are often sold as ‘health drinks’ with vitamins.  Unfortunately, there are many fruit juices that contain large amounts of sugar and acid and this can lead to significant damage to our teeth.

I am  involved in endurance sport and am conscious of the dental health issues associated with energy drinks and supplements.  I am also conscious that athletes need regular intakes of energy. Athletes like me need to ensure that we can produce enough energy to finish their event, in my case a Long Distance Triathlon which can take anything up to 17 hours to complete.  Failure to fuel appropriately during such an event can lead to what is known as “The Bonk” which simply means you have run out of energy and can lead to collapse on the course.  Fluid balance is also important and failure to do this leads to a significant risk of mortality during a long distance event.  This means that athletes have to ensure that they take on a combination of carbohydrates, water and electrolytes and possibly a few other things such as caffeine during a race. In order to consume all of these components sometimes it is necessary to use ‘sports drinks’ and energy bars that can contain high levels of sugar. Recovery drinks also contain sugars, so athletes are at risk even when exercise is over.

I noticed a recent article in the press on poor dental health relating to diet that exists across elite athlete population. There are three problems with increased volumes of training that relate to our mouths, firstly the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated during exercise which causes vasoconstriction (constricted blood vessels) of salivary ducts.  This reduces the saliva flow and causes dryness of the mouth.  Saliva contains protective elements that reduce our risk of tooth decay. If reduced salivary flow is combined with dietary acids and sugars during exercise, we are more at risk of dental decay developing as well as tooth erosion. If these risk factors are combined with a poor diet then it is easy to see how problems can occur. Dryness in the mouth, erosion from acid and sugar from energy drinks are a major problem with keeping athletes’ mouths in a healthy state but there are things that we can do to help combat the problem.

What can you do to combat tooth erosion as an athlete?

– Make sure that you are well hydrated before exercise and avoid exercise on an empty stomach.

– During exercise, a larger amount of energy drink with less frequency is better than smaller sips on a regular basis

– Keep hydrated during exercise

– Combine any solids with fluids to keep the frequency of sugar intake down

– Following exercise aim to have any recovery drinks as part of a post training meal, to reduce the frequency of sugar intake

– Make sure that your normal diet contains good carbohydrates and keeps acid drinks to a minimum (ie fruit juice and fizzy drinks).

– Make sure that you are registered with a dentist and have regular check ups

– Discuss your diet with your dentist and mention your exercise needs.