With all the benefits exercising has for your body, it’s surprising that athletes are at risk for poor dental health! Although athletes tend to take great care of their bodies, their teeth and gums can suffer due to some of the habits that athletes develop while performing exercises or post-workout. What are some of these habits, and why are athletes at risk for poor dental health?
Athletes run a higher risk of damage to their teeth and gums through bruxism, or teeth grinding. Teeth grinding can happen during intense exercises, as a result of stress, or even an injury. It’s important to wear custom mouth guards if appropriate for the sport you’re playing. If not, try to be aware of whether or not you grind your teeth during exercises. Bruxism is a serious threat to your oral health and can lead to tooth enamel damage, inflamed gums, and even tooth loss. Consider dental guards or exercises and workouts that are low impact. You shouldn’t be grinding your teeth during an exercise, even if it’s a difficult one!
One of the biggest influential factors of poor dental health among athletes was found to be their saliva (link to study: http://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2014-archive/november/endurance-athletes-may-be-more-prone-to-tooth-erosion-and-caries-researchers-say) —not only did the pH of athlete’s saliva change as they worked out, but saliva also decreased due to mouth breathing. Breathing through your mouth can quickly dry out your mouth, leaving a perfect space for bad bacteria to thrive. Lack of saliva in addition to bad bacteria can erode your enamel over time and lead to cavities, gingivitis, and tooth loss.
Instead of breathing through your mouth, try better breathing methods such as through your nose. It may take time to build up to working out with your mouth shut the whole time, which could mean decreasing the intensity of your workouts while your body adjusts. It’s worth it to protect your teeth!
Diet—Sports Drinks and “Health” Bars
While some studies haven’t found a direct link between athlete’s dental health and their diet, diet still plays an important role in oral health. Athletes may be predisposed to having dental problems as a result of their dry mouth, and a dry mouth isn’t the best environment to be introducing sports drinks to. The conventional sports drink is packed with processed salts and sugar, which are doing your body more harm than good!
Many “energy” bars tend to be packed with sugar as well. Learn to read the label and remember that whole foods are better than buying pre-packaged ones. Toss the sports drinks and opt for more natural alternatives, such as coconut water. If you don’t like the taste of coconut water, you can add whole salts like pink Himalayan sea salt to your water (just a pinch) to help get those trace minerals you need in addition to rehydrating.
Exercise is so important for your body! Although athletes are more at risk for poor dental health, you can adopt healthy practices to reap the benefits of exercise and still have a great smile. Don’t grind your teeth, breathe through your nose, and rehydrate with coconut water during breaks. Healthy teeth, healthy body!