Many of us have heard throughout our lives that candy is bad for the teeth, and too much sugar will rot them out of your head. The bacteria in your mouth love to eat sugar, and they then produce acid that erodes the teeth. From cereals to sweets, we associate the bacteria that cause cavities with foods that are bad for us. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only culprits.
Sometimes what we eat to support healthy habits – like cycling, swimming and running – can also ruin our teeth. When you’re exercising for long periods, you may eat an energy bar, energy gel pack or have a sports drink with electrolytes. Unless you’re also stopping to rinse with water or brush your teeth, your mouth is bathing in sugars until you’re able to brush. Learn about the effects endurance foods and drinks can have and how to combat them for better oral and overall health.
Studies Show Many Endurance Athletes are Ruining Their Teeth
Some of the foods and drinks that athletes consume during exercise contain a lot of sugar. The most common choices are:
- Powdered mixes
- Sports drinks
- Energy gel packets
- Energy chews
- Granola bars
- Candy bars
The carbohydrates and sugar in these foods and drinks help competitive athletes stay fueled. But, for many weekend warriors and amateur athletes who ride or run far less, it’s not necessarily needed. And, studies show higher rates of dental erosion and cavities in endurance athletes compared to the general population.
When was the last time you consumed an electrolyte sports drink or energy gel packet during a ride, run or swim? Did you think about brushing your teeth right after? Most likely, you didn’t. When consuming these energy boosters, it’s extremely important to remember that they contain as much, or even more, sugar than some sweets.
How Much Sugar is in Athletes’ Foods and Drinks?
For context, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams (or 9 teaspoons) of sugar for men and no more than 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of sugar for women per day. These amounts are recommended for food and drinks with added sugars, not for the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables.
Here are the sugar levels in some popular food and drinks that many endurance athletes consume regularly:
According to Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Jackie Robertson of eNRG Performance, “most amateur athletes consume too much sugar for what their body and muscles need during normal endurance exercise. If you’re only doing 1-2 hours of exercise or less, you will most likely be fine by eating a good meal one and a half to two hours before exercise and carrying along some water. Any workout three hours or more or where you’re actually competing, you will want to have some extra carbs and sugar along to stay fueled. But everyone is different. It’s always best to consult a nutritionist or dietitian to find out what you and your body actually needs. You will be better fueled, and will probably save some money too.”
How Sugar and Exercise Can Be Bad on Athletes’ Teeth
It’s easy to see how sugar consumption adds up fast if you consume any of these items during endurance activities. If you plan to consume this much sugar during your next run, ride or swim, think ahead and plan how you will care for your teeth after you exercise to keep those sugars from feeding on the bacteria that can cause cavities.
It’s not just the sugar we consume during exercise that has negative effects on our teeth and smile. Here are three other reasons why excessive exercise can have a negative impact on our teeth and oral health:
- Saliva depletion – When we exercise, our mouth gets dry. Saliva is a natural barrier against disease in our mouths. It helps prevent cavities and keeps the surface of your mouth clean. Without it, our teeth and gums are more susceptible to oral diseases.
- Dehydration – Because our bodies use more water to produce sweat and we breathe more heavily during exercise, it’s harder to produce saliva.
- Time – If you’re exercising for an extended period, you probably didn’t bring your toothbrush along. It doesn’t take long for plaque to begin forming on your teeth after consuming sugar. So, if you fuel with sugar during your workouts, get in the habit of brushing well afterward.
Top 4 Ways to Fight Sugar While Exercising
Awareness will help you combat the amount of sugar you take in during exercise. Here are some other tips to help offset tooth decay and improve the health of your teeth:
- Drink water or rinse your mouth out with water to remove bacteria-causing sugar. This will prevent your mouth from drying out.
- Carry a toothbrush and toothpaste in your athletic bag. If you aren’t going to be home for a while, you can always brush your teeth in a nearby bathroom, or even in your car when your athletic activity is over.
- Eat less sugar. While this won’t necessarily eliminate the need to brush after, less sugar will aid in better oral health when you’re exercising. Try making energy snacks at home that don’t require a lot of added sugar. Here are some other recipe ideas.
- Brush twice per day and floss at least once a day. Of course, visit your dentist for regular cleanings and checkups twice a year.
The moral of the story is to realize and recognize when you’re eating food, snacks and drinks that are high in sugar. Remember to prioritize your smile along with your overall health because they work together! Start making oral hygiene another aspect of your workout. We care about the whole you, so these tips help not only your oral health but also your overall health, too!
Learn more about our dental plans that will give you the best smile while you practice your exercise of choice.