Physical exercise improves almost all areas of your health—your cardiovascular system, lung capacity, mood, and so much more. One area of your health that exercise does not directly benefit is your oral health.
Studies have found correlations between elite athletes and poor oral health, and how an unhealthy mouth can potentially affect an athlete’s performance. Dealing with a toothache or recovering from a procedure can cut into training time, inhibit optimal concentration, and prevent athletes from getting restful sleep.
Athletic training has many factors that could contribute to dental health issues, but in theory, most of these issues are preventable. Let’s take a look at some of the oral health concerns and their possible causes that athletes might face.
Gum Health. Healthy gums start with consistent regular care. If gums aren’t thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis, bacteria can start to grow out of control, causing plaque to build up and the gums to become inflamed. This can lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease over time.
If not kept in check, the sugary sports drinks and high carbohydrate diets that athletes are exposed to during training can accelerate the growth of bacteria and a cycle of irritated gums, cavities, and tooth decay can begin. Sugary sports drinks often do more harm than good. Staying hydrated is important, but it can be accomplished without all that extra sugar.
Changes in Saliva. Studies have found that prolonged exercising changes the amount of saliva you produce. Medical Daily cites a study that says longer runs (35 + minutes) contribute to drier mouths, change the pH composition of the saliva, and increase the risk of tooth decay.
Saliva is the body’s natural way of rinsing teeth and neutralizing acids in the mouth. When the production of saliva decreases and the pH changes, the risk of cavities and tooth erosion increases.
Tooth Trauma. Those who play sports regularly are inherently at a higher risk of enduring tooth trauma, such as knocked out teeth or cracks and chips in the teeth. To help reduce this risk, always wear a mouth guard while engaging in athletic activities. This helps protect your teeth and saves you the money, time, and hassle of having to get corrective dental work done.
These issues are no reason to stop exercising regularly. Preventative habits and regular check-ups are the key to maintaining good oral health while still reaping the countless benefits of exercising regularly.
The most important habits to remember are brushing and cleaning in between your teeth, and getting regular dental exams. It’s recommended that you brush for two minutes, twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and clean between your teeth with floss or another interdental cleaner once a day. Visiting your dentist regularly can help catch small problems before they become major issues, saving you time and money, and helping you remain pain-free. If you are a serious athlete, it may also be beneficial to seek out a dentist that is experienced in treating high-performance individuals.
Click here for more blogs by Dr. Scott Shamblott.