The Worst Snacks for Athletes' Oral Health

Athletes constantly push their bodies to the limit, striving for peak performance and optimal health. Often, the pursuit of physical excellence results in oral health being overlooked. What many athletes don’t realize is the snacks they consume can have a significant impact on their teeth and gums.

Here, we’ll explore some of the worst snacks for athletes’ oral health and healthier alternatives.

Poor oral health is common in athletes

An observational study from the Dentistry Journal found that “Sport activities can be considered a risk factor, among athletes from different sports, for the onset of oral diseases, such as caries with an incidence between 15% and 70%, dental trauma 14–70%, dental erosion 36%, pericoronitis 5–39% and periodontal disease up to 15%.”

The study suggests that the reasons behind this include a lack of education about risks certain sports have to oral health, lower amounts of saliva production during intensive training sessions, and an increased risk of infections in the oral cavity. Additionally, poor oral hygiene habits during training and diets full of sugar and processed foods are thought to play a role.

The worst snacks for athletes

Common food and drink choices athletes reach for during competitions may be convenient but can harm their oral health.

1. Sports drinks

Sports drinks are a popular choice for athletes seeking to replenish electrolytes and stay hydrated during intense workouts. However, these drinks are often full of sugars and acids, which can erode tooth enamel and lead to cavities. The high level of acidity also contributes to an environment where harmful bacteria thrive, increasing the risk of tooth decay.

Healthier alternative: Opt for water to stay hydrated. If you need to replace electrolytes, choose sugar-free or low-sugar options.

2. Energy bars

Energy bars are convenient and marketed as a healthy snack for athletes, but many contain high amounts of sugars and sticky ingredients, such as dried fruit, that cling to teeth. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to plaque buildup and increased risk of cavities.

Healthier alternative: Look for energy bars with minimal sugar content and natural ingredients, or snack on nuts, seeds, or fresh fruit for a natural energy boost.

3. Dried fruits

Dried fruits are often considered a healthy snack for athletes due to their high fiber and nutrient content. This is true if the dried fruit isn’t sweetened or covered in sugar. However, many dried fruits are high in concentrated sugars and tend to be sticky. This stickiness allows sugar to adhere to teeth, promoting bacterial growth and decay.

Healthier alternative: Fresh fruits are a better snack for athletes. They often have a lower sugar concentration and are less likely to stick to your teeth. If you do consume dried fruit, be sure to rinse with water afterward.

4. Chews, gels, and gummy vitamins

Energy chews, gels, candies, and even gummy vitamins can be problematic due to their sticky nature and high sugar content. These options can get lodged in the crevices of teeth, where they provide a constant source of fuel for harmful bacteria.

Healthier alternative: Choose sugar-free gum or hard candies that also stimulate saliva production, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria.

5. Crackers and chips

While savory, crackers and chips can be just as harmful as sugary snacks. They break down into simple sugars in the mouth and tend to get stuck in the teeth, leading to prolonged exposure to cavity-causing bacteria.

Healthier alternative: Whole-grain crackers or sliced vegetables with hummus can satisfy cravings without compromising oral health.

Tips for protecting athletes’ oral health

Whether you’re preparing for a youth game or the Olympics, protecting the oral health of the athletes is a must!

Consider these tips:

  1. Hydrate with water: Drinking plenty of water helps wash away food particles and neutralize acids produced by bacteria in the mouth.
  2. Maintain a balanced diet: Incorporate a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables, lean proteins, and dairy, to support overall and oral health.
  3. Practice good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily to remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth.
  4. Regular dental check-ups: Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings to catch any potential issues early.
  5. Wear mouthguards: Athletes should always wear a mouthguard when playing sports to protect their mouth and face from injury. Talk to your dentist about getting a custom mouthguard.

Choosing healthy snacks for athletes keeps them in the game

Athletes must pay attention to their diet, not only for performance but also for their oral health. By being mindful of the snacks an athlete consumes and opting for healthier alternatives, they can protect their teeth and gums, ensuring a winning smile both on and off the field.