Carbo Drinks Nearly Cost Me My Teeth

I've gone through my 40+ years on this planet without a cavity. None. But a couple of years back, my dentist started to notice heavy signs of wear on my teeth and some gum disease issues. It had me puzzled. I was the perfect model of dental hygiene - not only brushing at least twice a day, but flossing nightly. So what was going wrong in my mouth?

Acid Wash

My on-bike energy drinks were the likely cause. While training daily for 2 hours or more, sipping an energy drink every 10 minutes or so (picture that - a fairly continuous flow of sugar over my teeth for more than 2 hours at a time!) was creating a highly acidic environment in my mouth. Ripe for weakening tooth enamel. Fertile for plaque growth. Brushing right after a workout wasn't a solution. I could literally start brushing away my weakened tooth enamel. I had to start doing something different.

The Energy Gel Solution

For a quality workout, you still need to supply some carbohydrate to your body. I switched to gels, and plain water. I get the gel down to the back of my throat as quickly as possible, and then drink plain water to dilute it in my stomach. I don't let the the gel sit in my gut without drinking about 4 oz. of water to help dilute it. Otherwise, the digestive process draws fluid from my stomach to create the proper environment for digestion. And that can lead to an upset stomach when I'm trying to work hard. After each gel-hit I spend the next 30 minutes sipping plain water. It rinses my mouth and of course keeps me hydrated. My teeth win, and my workout wins.

Now any gel will work, but I've found Hammer Gel works best for me. You can buy it in bulk and transfer it to a handy 5 serving flask. No wrappers to deal with, and the flask really lets you squirt the gel down to the back of your mouth. This approach has a further advantage on race day; you carry your own nutrition, and you only need to worry about getting plain water from your feed helpers.

This approach has really worked for me. I don't bonk. I don't get tummy troubles. And my dental health has stopped deteriorating. A win-win all around!

Keep this in mind during your next dental appointment. If you're seeing tooth troubles, maybe it's time to change your on-bike nutrition strategy.

Photo "Brushes up the Teeth" by: greefus groinks


  1. Out of curiosity were you using full strength drinks?

    I've been in the habit making my drinks more dilute than recommended. I find them easier to drink and I assume will help prevent some dental problems. Of course as a result I need to rely on solids for a true fuel supply for longer rides.

  2. Yes Chris, I was mixing them at their recommended full strength. Diluting them would help the dental issues somewhat. But as you point out, you'd need to supplement with something solid to make sure you're getting enough carbohydrates to keep going.

    If I'm not racing, I can usually manage solid food. But when I'm racing, I find I need something quick and easy. Hammer Gel works great for that. For me, bars require too much chewing. Perhaps I have troubles chewing and pedaling at the same time? :) My general lack of coordination was one of the reasons I picked up cycling in the first place - no need for a lot of hand-eye coordination!

  3. Hi Kevin,
    I'm seeing more of this kind of thing in my dental practice all the time. Not only is the problem related to the "sugar bath" issue that feeds the plaque to create enamel decalcification but there are ph issues of the energy drinks themselves that contribute to the decay process. Some of my athletic patients have had great success with the gel idea. Great blog!
    Regards,Barry Bergh

  4. Thanks Barry for the perspective of a dentist.

    I think more athletes need to understand that their dentists are important members of their overall health care force. Poor dental health usually means an immune system run ragged fighting needless battles in your mouth. A healthy set of teeth and gums lets your immune system stand ready to fight the bigger battles that hard training can set you up for.