Summer has finally arrived, and it’s about time! With such an exciting list of outdoor activities to do in Pittsburgh and Washington, PA, we couldn’t be more excited here at Dr. Krakora’s.During the months leading up to summer, many of us work extra hard to prepare for bathing suit season and to look our best. Whether it’s weddings, vacations, or reunions we have planned, everyone wants to be confident in the summertime. For those of us who actually commit to these goals - which can be incredibly hard when it’s below freezing and you just want to watch Netflix all day - transforming your diet and exercise are crucial to staying healthy and looking your best.However, what you may not have known is that extensive exercise and your teeth don’t always have the best relationship.
What you didn’t know about exercise and your teeth
With exercise being beneficial for basically everything - improving your energy, mood, and sleeping patterns, decreasing stress, and controlling weight - it's strange to hear that athletes performing vigorous exercise experience many dental problems.A study published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports highlights the surprising ways extensive exercise may be affecting athletes' teeth. 35 triathletes and 35 non-exercising participants were evaluated based on their current dental health, eating and drinking habits, oral hygiene, saliva flow, and training habits, which included energy bars and sports drinks consumed.During athletes' strenuous training, saliva flow significantly decreased causing increases in pH levels. The study concluded athletes were at a higher risk of developing dental caries potentially leading to periodontal disease and erosion of tooth enamel.The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported similar findings in their research study of athletes in the 2012 Olympic Games. After obtaining data from 278 athletes participating in 25 different sporting events, the results indicated increased levels of poor oral health for athletes. This ranged from dental caries and dental erosion to periodontal disease. However, nearly half of the study participants admitted to not seeing a general dentist in the previous year.
Causes of dental problems among athletes
If exercise is such a crucial element in improving overall health, why is it having such a negative impact on athletes' teeth?Training RegimenMany athletes opt for energy and sports drinks during training to increase performance and rehydrate after working out. Despite containing electrolytes beneficial to the recovery process and refueling the body, these drinks are detrimental for your teeth!A study by the Academy of General Dentistry claims sports drinks are essentially "bathing your teeth in acid." After only 5 days of consecutive use, these energy and sports drinks begin destroying your teeth. A previous study by the International Journal of Sports Medicine studying the dental health of triathletes in New Zealand reported 83.9% of these athletes consumed sports drinks while training.In addition to sports drinks and energy drinks, athletes ingest many other carbohydrates during training, such as protein bars and gels, which also lower the mouth's pH level. When the pH level falls below the healthy 5.5 mark, tooth enamel erosion and dental caries are likely to develop.Open Mouth BreathingIn addition to the way athletes train, another factor contributes to developing dental caries while exercising - open mouth breathing. During intense exercise, many athletes breathe heavily with their mouths open. This causes the mouth to become very dry and reduces the amount of saliva produced.Saliva protects your teeth in various ways including neutralizing acids harmful to your teeth, providing calcium and phosphate to prevent demineralization, killing bacteria, and cleaning your mouth after eating and/or drinking.
Improving the relationship between exercise and your teeth
With exercise being so important to your overall health, how can you strengthen the relationship between exercise and your teeth?For starters, opt for alternative methods of rehydration after or during a workout. Rather than the acid-filled sports and energy drinks popular among athletes, choose water or coconut water. You can also add lemon to your water, which not only adds flavor, but restores your electrolytes too.In addition, you can train yourself to breathe through your nose during strenuous exercise. This alleviates saliva reduction prevalent in open-mouth breathing. This article from LIVESTRONG offers advice on how to train yourself to nose breathe while working out.Even though all of us aren't training as hard as the Olympians and triathletes evaluated in the studies mentioned above, it's still important to consider how vigorous exercise impacts dental health. The best way to be proactive is to regularly schedule dental cleanings and exams along with practicing good oral hygiene, such as flossing regularly and brushing twice a day for two minutes.