Playing Sport – Implications For Teeth & Gums

Playing Sport – Implications For Teeth & Gums

Streatham dentist, Tushar Patel, explains why playing sports and keeping fit can affect your oral health.

Especially when we are younger, many of us take part in sporting activities, whether this be at a high level, or simply an informal game of tennis or squash with our friends. On the whole, this is a positive thing and activities like this are generally good for our overall health and, sometimes, for our social lives too.

It is probably unlikely that we think about how this might affect our teeth and gums very much, if at all, but a recent study read by the team at the Confidental Clinic has highlighted the fact that many top UK athletes have poor oral health despite the fact that they brush and floss more regularly than the general public at large.

What are the problems?

There are three main areas of concern expressed in the report,  and we will take a look at each of those now. We will also discuss how this can affect you even if you compete at a much lower level than the athletes who took part in the study.

The main concerns are:

  1. Injuries to the mouth area when playing sports
  2. Dietary regimes that are sometimes followed by athletes
  3. Airflow leading to a dry mouth and the problems it can cause


The likelihood of any injury that might affect the teeth will largely depend on what type of sport you participate in. If you go out for a gentle jog in the evening, your risk is very low. Of course, it is always possible that you might trip and fall whilst doing so, but the low risk factor means that there is no real need for any special precautions. If you take part in a contact sport such as football or rugby on the other hand, it makes sense to ensure that your teeth are protected by a mouthguard. You may have played your chosen sport for a number of years with no problems, but all it takes is one stray elbow and you may find yourself losing several teeth that will need to be replaced.


While most of us might not change our diet too much when we play sports at a casual level, those competing at a higher one often do. Carbohydrates often play a large part in this and as these convert into sugars for energy, it is not surprising that this often means a rise in tooth decay. For those competing in longer events such as marathons or long cycle races, there is also a likelihood that they will not only eat these before a meal but will also snack during the event to make sure that their energy levels stay high. Although we do understand why this may need to be done, it is worth reading up on what you can eat and eliminate the ones highest in sugars.

One of the biggest problems for sports participants at all levels is that of the ‘sports drink’. These are high energy drinks that are designed to rehydrate and provide a boost in energy. You can see footballers taking drinks of these regularly throughout a game.

The big issue here is whether these are necessary. Whilst a top level athlete may weigh up the risks to their teeth and decide that it is worthwhile risking them for success in their chosen field; for most of us, they simply aren’t necessary.  Providing that you eat sensibly before an event, all that you need to drink for rehydration purposes is water. Unfortunately, whilst these ‘sports’ drinks may taste good, they are also not only high in sugars, but often have high acidity levels too. Over time, this will erode the enamel on your teeth, a process which may ultimately result in restoration with techniques such as the the fitting dental veneers.


The third key risk is that of a dry mouth. This can happen because we don’t drink enough water, but is also more prevalent in sports such as running or cycling, where, in order to take in sufficient oxygen, participants breathe through their mouth. This dries the interior of the mouth and increases the chances of problems such as gingivitis and other periodontal diseases.

Naturally, it is essential to breathe in enough oxygen and the worst effects of this can be mitigated by making sure that you drink plenty of water, not sports drinks, before, during and after your run or other sporting activities.

Whatever level you play sports at, an essential part of your oral care plan should always be to see your local dentist for six monthly dental check ups. You can arrange to have one of these at the Confidental Clinic in Streatham by calling us on 020 8674 2052.