Can exercise be bad for your teeth?

January 22nd, 2015

It’s the moment all athletes dream of: stepping up onto the podium to receive their medal. Years of hard work have finally paid off. Of course given the situation, those ear to ear twinkling smiles are to be expected. But will our athletes’ teeth pay the price for those hours in the gym? The Daily Mail has recently published some of the findings of a study carried out by health experts which suggested this could well be the case.

So what are the facts? According to the study, toothache and bleeding gums affected nearly 20% of athletes’ performances at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Almost 50% of those who took part in the study hadn’t been to the dentist in the last year, but reported that nagging pain and discomfort had had a negative impact on their performance.

The science behind this is fairly straightforward: exercise can lead to a greater risk of tooth decay and damage. The more an individual exercises, the greater the risk. During exercise, saliva production is reduced. As well as decreasing in production, saliva becomes increasingly alkaline. The alkaline saliva helps plaque bacteria to grow. This plaque causes tooth decay. Running in particular is linked to a reduction in enamel protecting protein in saliva. This means that even drinking water after exercising could lead to tooth erosion.

As well as the alteration in the chemistry of the saliva, there are other risk factors that link exercising to tooth problems. Diet is a key area for consideration. Athletes often need high carbohydrate diets because of the amount of energy they require. They also may regularly use energy drinks which contain high levels of sugar and are highly acidic. These drinks can contribute to tooth decay, pain and discomfort.

The recent study suggested that athletes could take simple measures with their oral health which could be the equivalent of the marginal gains seen through access to the various sports therapies that are available on the market. It was proposed that the use of high fluoride toothpastes and improved brushing techniques could lead to a marked reduction in oral health problems, and could make the difference between silver and gold. Athletes should also opt for water or hypotonic drinks for rehydration, rather than high sugar energy drinks.

With January now here, many of us will be turning our mind to working off the Christmas excess and embarking on a new exercise regime. Whilst you’re taking advantage of the special offers on gym memberships, it’s worth giving a thought to booking in for that dental check-up too, and taking some advice on your oral health care routine. Simple measures will enable you to hit the treadmill and maintain your perfect smile, pain free.

For more information on the link between exercise and tooth problems please see:

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