Sports Supplements & Oral Health | Why Do Athletes Get More Cavities?

Sports Supplements & Oral Health | Why Do Athletes Get More Cavities?

We have seen a significant rise in the use of health, training and performance supplements, often as part of a healthy eating or diet & exercise plan. But, did you know that athletes are a group at high risk to dental cavities?

Despite their great physical shape and overall health, a study before the 2012 London Olympics showed that many professional athletes attending the games displayed signs of poor oral health – and this is often due to a mixture of diet, training and a lack of dental hygiene.

Whether professional athlete, or your average Joe, many people often mistakenly believe that because a food additive or performance supplement is marketed as ‘healthy’ then it must be great for their teeth! It isn’t this simple, and we explain how these can impact your dental health.

Sticky Things, Acids & Sugars

Sugary, syrupy and acidic – the perfect trifecta! Junk food like soft drinks and chewy lollies are known to be amongst the worst things for your teeth.

They start a a vicious cycle. Cavity causing sugars are broken down by bacteria in your mouth and form acids which attack and demineralize the outer surfaces of your teeth. In fact, you can read about the sugar-acid cycle in our Guide to Acidic Foods with Alice Kelsey written with help from our Brisbane dentists.

Unlike junk food though, health & performance foods are often part of a comprehensive diet or exercise plan and rather than asking our patients to abstain from using them, we prefer to advocate healthy oral hygiene practices in order to minimize the risks.

‘Natural’ foods can also be acidic or sugary, such as citrus fruits and apple cider vinegar. These diet additives need to be treated with care and we have composed a list of several diet and performance items you should look out for, and how to minimize their impacts on your oral health.

Energy Drinks, Gels & Sachets

Energy drinks, sports drinks and gels typically contain carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars, and come in a range of textures like liquids, bars and gums.

We have seen a growing trend of people using performance supplements for their regular sporting and exercise requirements, and worryingly, this can be at the expense of water intake. This has two effects.

As you exercise the amount of saliva in your mouth will naturally decrease, either through deep-breathing or dehydration, and consequently your body then has less fluids available for your body to dilute the sugar left behind from your energy snack.

So… how do you keep the sugar intake without sacrificing your oral health?

  • Keep fresh water in an alternate bottle to your sports drinks.
  • Rinse with water afterwards!
  • Wait a while then brush. Brushing immediately with a dry & sugary mouth can harm your teeth.
  • Use a water bottle with straw, this limits your sports drink’s contact with your teeth.
  • Don’t leave energy lollies in the same spot in your mouth. Finish quickly and rinse.

Fruit Infused Water (for example - Lemon, Orange or Lime)

Common sense would indicate that compared to a soft-drink, infused water is mostly, well….. water. But be careful with infused waters – they can pack a punch!

Many of these infused drinks contain acidic fruits, such as citrus, and these acids are more than powerful enough to damage your tooth structure.

While these drinks may be a great way to cut back your kilojoule intake without sacrificing flavour – many fruit juices are acidic, contain sugars, and even at the concentrations present in infused waters, present a real oral health risk.

Treat infused water as any other sugary product after drinking –

  • Rinse with water.
  • Chew some sugar-free gum.
  • Don’t sip frequently over long periods.
  • Just like sports drinks, use a straw, this will limit contact with your teeth.
  • Do not drink at night before bed.

Apple-Cider Vinegar

Apple-cider vinegar is a commonly touted natural remedy, and is often used as an ingredient in salad dressings and sauces – and when it comes to your oral health, this is where it should stay.

Just like infused water, many vinegar remedies are often referred to as ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’, and we were surprised to find several articles listing apple-cider vinegar as an effective mouthwash.

While apple-cider vinegar may have antimicrobial qualities, we want everyone to be aware that it is also a concentrated acidic substance. As we all know, acids have terrible consequences on your teeth, and can directly demineralize your enamel. So, if you use apple-cider vinegar frequently as a mouthwash your enamel may never completely recover.

We do not recommend any natural remedies that use acidic substances to whiten or freshen your smile – such as apple-cider vinegar of lemon juice. While your smile may improve initially, this is because the chemicals within are actually removing the outer layer of your enamel and can lead to serious dental complications.

Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of using it in the first place?

Do you really need a sports supplement?

Experts agree that unless you are doing endurance style activity, defined as one and a half hours or more of strenuous exercise, then energy supplements are not usually necessary.

For bursts of exercise shorter than this, your body will use existing carbohydrate reserves to power itself through your work-out, and any carbohydrate needs can be managed by the appropriate diet.

However, as any long-distance athlete will testify, there comes a time when the body runs out of fuel. Athletes call this hitting the ‘bonk’ or the ‘wall’ and at this point, it is important to provide your body with the sugars it needs to keep going, or you risk nausea, light-headedness and may even faint.

Dental Hygiene For Healthy Foods

With many unhealthy foods, like soft drinks, abstinence and complete removal from diet is often the easiest way to protect your teeth.

However, we realize that plenty of athletes and healthy eaters may not want to cut the products present in this article out of their daily lives. This is where a healthy dental hygiene plan comes into action!

  • Give your body plenty of fluid, not the infused or added stuff – just plain water.
  • Try to chew sugar-free gum and rinse after eating or drinking.
  • Make sure you brush consistently, at least twice a day.
  • Brush half an hour after any periods where your teeth maintained prolonged contact with a sugary or acidic food.

Especially for athletes –

  • Try not to keep energy products in contact with one area of the mouth, such as tucked under the lip.
  • Always rinse after using sugary products.
  • Keep a bottle of plain water separate from your sports drink bottle!
  • You can also apply a pea sized dab of toothpaste or tooth mousse directly to your teeth, without using your toothbrush, to promote a healthy oral environment after your run or work-out.


Any reader that has specific nutritional needs or is impacted by existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome, should consult their relevant medical professionals before making any changes to their diet or exercise habits.