Top athletes could be wrecking their teeth with sports drinks, energy bars and gels, according to a study.

Despite 94% of elite athletes brushing their teeth twice daily and 44% saying they regularly flossed between their teeth, many struggled to have good oral health.

A team of University College London (UCL) scientists surveyed 352 Olympic and professional athletes across 11 sports, including cycling, swimming, rugby, football, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics, and their findings are published in the British Dental Journal.

Previous studies showed that 49.1% of athletes had untreated tooth decay while 32% reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance, the UCL team noted.

This new study showed that 94% of athletes brushed their teeth twice a day, compared with 75% of the general public, while 44% flossed regularly, compared with 21% of the public.

Running shoes
Previous studies showed that 49.1% of athletes had untreated tooth decay (Andrew Matthews/PA)

It also found 87% used sports drinks, 59% used energy bars and 70% used energy gels, which are known to damage teeth.

Dr Julie Gallagher, of UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance, said: “We found that a majority of the athletes in our survey already have good oral health related habits in as much as they brush their teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly, don’t smoke and have a healthy general diet.

“However, they use sports drinks, energy gels and bars frequently during training and competition.

“The sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion.

“This could be contributing to the high levels of tooth decay and acid erosion we saw during the dental check-ups.”

It has also been suggested in previous studies that elite athletes may face an elevated risk of oral disease from a dry mouth during intensive training, the UCL team pointed out.

The athletes who were interviewed said they would consider taking up even better oral hygiene habits to tackle this. A pilot study has already been set up.

Dr Gallagher said: “Athletes were willing to consider behaviour changes such as additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits, and reducing their intake of sports drinks, to improve oral health.

“We subsequently asked some of them and support team members to help us design an oral health intervention study, based on contemporary behaviour change theory and we will publish the results soon.”