Athletes need to take more care of their teeth, says record-breaking ultra runner Carla Molinaro
Endurance athletes need to consume huge amounts of calories to keep their energy up. This often has damaging results to their teeth. In our second article about sport and dental health, ultra-runner Carla Molinaro talks about how important her dental health is to her.
Carla Molinaro is an elite ultra-runner, sports coach and adventurer. Between lockdowns last year, she broke the Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) women’s record. In July 2020, Carla took just 12 days, 30 minutes and 14 seconds to run the length of Britain, 874 miles, getting up at 4am and running till 10pm every day.
Since then, she’s kept busy. In January she took part in Project Carbon X 2, a 100km race based in Phoenix Arizona. In May she raced in Scotland at Ultra X Scotland, 125km over two days, coming a fantastic first female and second overall.
Naturally, Carla is very careful about her health, with regular input from physiotherapists and osteopaths, in order to avoid injury. She also minds her diet, but on her LEJOG run she was burning 7,500 calories a day. She was snacking regularly as she ran on sausages, sausage rolls, pancakes, crackers, fruit and vegetables. As well as occasional cans of Coke at the end of the day.
She’s very aware that the diet of many athletes, frequently involving energy drinks, is disastrous for dental health.
Carla Molinaro, how did you get into ultra-running?
Carla Molinaro: I‘ve always been into sport and have just built the distances up.
Previously I did triathlons but have now come back to running. I am starting to enjoy adventures more than races. I love getting to see places on foot rather than just flying past them.
LEJOG was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was an amazing experience.
When did you start to become aware of the importance of dental health?
Carla Molinaro: All my family have problems with fillings.
When I was at university our running team was sponsored by Lucozade. You get given energy drinks for free and at the time we all thought that was great.
I finished up having eight fillings in a year. It was horrific and I stopped using energy drinks while I was at university.
How do you keep your energy levels up?
Carla Molinaro: I prefer to use an electrolyte to replace the fluids. So I have trained myself to eat food when I’m running, rather than drinking, as I think that’s preferable. I do have the odd can of Coke at the end of the day, or if I need a quick boost, but that’s all.
On LEJOG I ate pancakes, mini sausages, crackers, eggs, sausage rolls, flapjacks, fruit and veg. My sister met me at regular intervals with food.
How important is food to you?
Carla Molinaro: Our family is in the restaurant business and I have grown up surrounded by tasty food. I enjoy baking and cooking meals from scratch. It helps me unwind.
Were you aware of your mouth during LEJOG?
Carla Molinaro: I developed ulcers in my mouth and cuts on my tongue after about eight days because of the acidity in my mouth from eating so often.
Although I don’t suffer from sensitivity I have lots of fillings and recently underwent root canal work. I have got four crowns and realised that I am 36 and have four fake teeth.
I don’t want to make that any worse. Though sometimes as an athlete you have to accept some things are part of the job.
I am now very conscious of my dental health and that’s why I eat and take electrolytes instead to keep my energy up.
Do you think other endurance athletes are aware of dental health and the possible damage caused by their diet and energy drinks?
Carla Molinaro: I don’t think so. Most of my fellow runners drink energy drinks. The marketing is so good that people believe they need them.
When I am coaching I try and get people off drinking sugar and encourage them to eat food instead.
Biomin F protects teeth continuously by releasing fluoride, calcium and phosphate ions slowly over several hours. It gets to work faster in the presence of acid in the mouth, eg after a sugary snack or drink. Do you think that this is advantageous to athletes like yourself?
Carla Molinaro: With the amount that you have to eat and drink during ultra-running events I think it is really beneficial to have a toothpaste that continually releases fluoride, calcium and phosphate to help protect them.
It’s great to see that Biomin has a product that does this. I have tried Biomin F and liked it.
What plans do you have for your next adventure?
Carla Molinaro: I have a few races lined up, including the British trail running trials in the Lake District in July and Cape Wrath Ultra in August. I am also planning a run across America that I will either do in September this year or next year depending on COVID restrictions easing.
Endurance athletes like Carla spend many hours training and competing. Due to their demanding schedule they are often unable to sit down to regular balanced meals. For convenience and instant effect, many of them consume energy bars and drinks with a high sugar content which can have a disastrous effect on their teeth and gums.
Running for long periods outdoors can also have a drying effect on the mouth. It’s known that saliva plays a vital part in remineralising teeth.
As a result, although athletes take great care of their bodies, their dental health is often badly affected. Particularly by decay and gum disease, or by sensitivity or demineralisation of their tooth enamel.
Brushing regularly with Biomin F protects against sensitivity. It works to remineralise damaged tooth enamel.
In the presence of acid in the mouth, for example after a sugary snack or drink, it gets to work extra quickly. A win-win for athletes.
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