Athletes and oral health: How your routine affects your smile

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August 7th, 2017

Women running outdoors

Exercise can be great for your lungs. It also strengthens muscles, helps prevent heart disease, builds endurance and even improves your mood. But it may not be so great for your teeth.

According to the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, athletes who train frequently tend to have more cavities and tooth erosion than those who train or exercise less. Are they too tired to brush before bed or too busy training to floss daily? Maybe at times, but exhaustion isn’t to blame for athletes’ higher rate of tooth problems. Read up on two key causes – and how to combat them.

The reason: Training Diet

One cavity culprit is the high amount of carbohydrates endurance athletes tend to consume to keep energy levels up while training. This includes acidic, sugary sports drinks, and gels and bars used while training as part of carb replenishing right after a training session. Because all carbs break down into sugar, energy products can be just as harmful to teeth as eating candies and cookies. They lower the mouth’s pH below the critical mark of 5.5, which is when teeth begin to dissolve or demineralize.

The solution: Drink plain water, floss and brush with fluoride toothpaste If you consume sports gels, sports drinks or any other acidic products during or immediately after a run or workout, make sure that you also drink water. Not only will it help you stay hydrated, swishing it around your mouth will dilute the potentially harmful effects from the acid and sugar in your energy foods and drinks. Acidic drinks and snacks can actually soften or erode tooth enamel. Wait at least 30 minutes after consuming these products, then floss and brush with fluoride toothpaste to help remineralize tooth enamel.

The reason: Heavy breathing

There’s also a factor that has nothing to do with what athletes consume. Rather, it’s how they breathe. When athletes exert a lot of energy, they naturally breathe through their mouths to try to take in more air. It works, but it tends to dry out the mouth. Hard workouts can also make you dehydrated, which lowers saliva production.

The solution: Keep yourself hydrated

Heavy breathing isn’t going to change, so be sure to keep your mouth as moist as possible with plenty of water before, during and after long runs or workouts. Dry mouth alone can be an issue, but when combined with the sugar and acid from your training foods, gels and drinks, it adds up to potential problems for your teeth.