How to get fit without ruining your teeth

Dr Mike Heffernan and Dr Toby Edwards-Lunn

We all know a good workout is the key to feeling healthier and happier. But what if your weekly hot yoga session, favourite spin class or latest PB at Park Run is secretly damaging your teeth?

A large study of Team GB Olympians, Team Sky cyclists, and England rugby players found an alarmingly high level of oral disease among athletes.

Nearly half had untreated tooth decay, and 77 per cent were showing signs of gum disease – a condition that’s linked to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and according to some recent studies, Alzheimer's.

So, what's going on? The study posited a few different causes, but one was front and centre: sports nutrition products. Which is something we, as dentists, know only too well.

Although fitness fanatics are doing their bodies a good turn by going to the gym, they’re often damaging their teeth by slurping sugary sports drinks and highly erosive fruit juices after their workouts. From a dentist’s point of view, it's little better than finishing off your workout with a deep-fried chocolate bar.

If you inspect the list of ingredients on sports drinks you’ll see that a half litre bottle can contain four or five spoons of sugar. This sugar is then feasted upon by the harmful bacteria in your mouth to produce the acid that causes tooth decay.

So, if you absolutely must have a sports drink as part of your workout, our advice is don’t swish it around your mouth or sip it at intervals. It’s far better to swallow it (and the energy it contains) in one go, so the sugar is in contact with your teeth for as short a time as possible.

And don’t think you can quickly brush your teeth afterwards to undo the damage: the abrasive action of using a toothbrush and toothpaste can erode acid-softened enamel and leave tiny scratches that will attract tea and coffee stains. As a general rule, you should wait at least an hour after eating or drinking anything acidic before brushing your teeth. In the meantime, taking one of our Remarkable Mints dental health mints will help to start reversing the process of tooth decay without causing any unwanted abrasion.

However, the most healthy strategy of all is to stay fully hydrated without touching a sports drink – which leads us to our gold-plated recommendation for your next gym session. It’s the greatest performance-enhancing sports drink ever invented, and it has so many health benefits it doesn’t even need a sponsor. That’s right: water.

There really is nothing better for you if you’re trying to get fit and take care of your teeth at the same time.

A version of this article was published in The Daily Telegraph.