A Marathon Effort

April 29th, 2016

Thousands took to the streets on 24th April to take part in the London Marathon. Months of strict training regimes, lengthy runs and scores of blisters will have finally come to an end, and the champagne corks will be popping as the celebrations begin. But whilst the runners rest their aching muscles, and revel with their medals round their necks, perhaps they should spare a thought for their teeth. Research has found that runners are particularly susceptible to problems with their oral health.

At the London 2012 Olympic Games, a study (published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine) was carried out in which nearly 300 athletes were asked about their oral health. It was found that the majority of those who took part displayed ‘poor oral health’. This meant that they had high levels of tooth decay, and sometimes had gum disease and erosion of tooth enamel. 20% of these athletes reported that the problems they experienced with their teeth negatively impacted upon their sporting abilities.

So what’s actually happening here? Why are runners more likely to suffer with oral health problems? There are several reasons:

  • Many runners rely on energy drinks and gels to keep them going through long training runs and to enable them to keep up with busy training regimes. These energy boosts might do the trick when it comes to keeping their legs moving, but they are not as supportive as they seem. Energy drinks and gels are packed with sugar and acid. Both of these directly lead to tooth decay and erosion, leading to the formation of cavities.
  • Whilst running, we automatically breathe more heavily. Our bodies need to take in oxygen to replace that we’ve lost, and to keep us going. By breathing heavily, our saliva flow is rapidly reduced. Therefore our mouths dry out. Dry mouths are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria which cause all manner of problems for our teeth.
  • When we are in the training zone, we can become very focussed on the race we are aiming for, and our overall programme. This can mean that we are less aware of what’s happening in the rest of our body. Therefore the little niggles that might ordinarily spur us into make an appointment to see our dentist go ignored. Before we know it the problems has escalated and we need more serious intervention.

Scary as this all may seem, there are lots of steps you can take to try and ensure your teeth stay in tip top condition whilst you clock up the miles.

  • Make sure you brush: twice a day, for two minutes each time, and using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Avoid sugary food and drinks as much as possible. When you do need to use them, drink water directly afterwards. This washes some of the sugars and acids off of your teeth.
  • After you have eaten, wait a while before you brush your teeth. Eating softens enamel (which protects your teeth) and so if you brush too soon after eating you brush some of your enamel particles away.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Chewing gum helps with saliva production – opt for sugar free.

It’s strange to think that what is now one of the nation’s favourite sporting activities could be so detrimental to our oral health. However, a few simple precautions can make all the difference. For more information and advice, make an appointment to see your dentist today, or visit the Oral Health Foundation website for more information.

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