Sports drinks and gels are no longer just for the elite athletes. From half marathons to long bike rides, if you’ve ever worked out for longer than an hour, it’s likely you’ll have used some form of sports drink or gel to help make sure you don’t ‘hit the wall’. When doing intense exercise, your body needs these simple carbohydrates and sugar that it can easily use for fuel, but your teeth won’t thank you. Read on to find out why and what you can do to make your exercise regime and your teeth friends again.
How exactly are sports drinks and gels bad for our teeth?
In short: sugar, acids and time.
Drinks and gels are usually made with added sugar which feeds bacteria in the mouth and causes it to multiply, producing damaging acids and eroding enamel. Many sports drinks also contain citric and malic acid, which as the name suggests, have an acidic pH of 2.4-4.5 which can then cause further acid erosion on teeth.
Finally, you inevitably get dehydrated when you exercise which does your teeth no favours, compounding the impact of sugar and acid. A dry mouth means that there isn’t enough saliva to neutralise the bacteria in the mouth (one of saliva’s main jobs). So all the bad stuff stays around doing damage a lot longer than it might do usually, which is particularly tricky with gels as they have a tendency to stick to teeth anyway. Nice.
What is the impact?
In the short term, we are putting our teeth at risk of frequent acid attacks, without much time for recovery if we reach for multiple gels during our workout. Doing this consistently can lead to the wearing down of our enamel, causing sensitivity and painful teeth.
Over a longer period of time, a diet high in these sugars can also lead to plaque and tooth decay. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are some things you can do to protect your teeth if sports and you are planning to go the distance.
6 ways you can help prevent damage to teeth
Think before jumping straight to a sugary sports drink. If you’re doing a session of less than 60 minutes, water should be fine to see you through.
If water just won’t cut it, try a hydration tablet instead of a pre-mixed drink. They are often lower in sugar and some also avoid the artificial sweeteners too.
Make sure you rinse your mouth with water after consuming sugary drinks and foods, especially when your mouth is dry. Gels are particularly bad for sticking to teeth for a long time, increasing the chance for damage to occur.
If you consume a sugary or acidic drink as part of your recovery after exercise, don’t brush straight after as this could further damage the enamel. If you do need to brush, wait at least 30 minutes.
Help your teeth to remineralise by eating or drinking foods high in calcium like milk or yoghurt as part of your diet.
Use xylitol mints or gum to help protect your teeth. If there are times when you must use gels or drinks, try popping a couple of our mints straight afterwards (gum works well too but maybe less practical when you’re on the move). This will help to neutralise the acids in your mouth and kill the bacteria, helping to protect against damage. Our mints are also great at stimulating saliva if you have a dry mouth. Try them on your next long run.
Blog post written with advice from Dr Swati Maan at Dental Care London.