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Is Endurance Training Bad For Your Teeth?

Virginia Eaton March 19 2016 SNOL DentistWritten by Virginia Eaton —

Hockey players aren’t the only athletes whose sport is detrimental to their teeth — the saying goes, if you’re not willing to lose some teeth, don’t play hockey!

While hockey players may need frequent dental interventions throughout their career, it turns out that endurance athletes are putting their pearly whites at risk as well. While marathoners rarely get their teeth in the way of a puck or a stick, it turns out the long hours of training and then competing may cause significant damage to their teeth.

In an attempt to figure out the relationship between dental decay and endurance sports, researchers have worked with athletes and non-athletes measuring the pH of their mouth, tracking their hydration, their food and other habits.

Virginia Eaton March 19 2016 SNOL runner-952526Initially, it was supposed that since endurance athletes had an increased consumption of carbohydrates, perhaps that was impacting the teeth. Even though there was a higher rate of things like energy drinks and bars consumed, that did not seem to be the cause of more dental decay.

When athletes and non-athletes were compared at rest, there wasn’t much difference in the important markers for increased dental problems. However, when they tested the same markers while the athletes were active, there was a whole different picture and some possible answers became apparent.

Just like in our gut, we have good bacteria in our mouth that make sure teeth and gums stay healthy. Our mouth tends to be slightly acidic which keeps the beneficial bacteria happy. However, if the mouth becomes more than slightly acidic, the bad bacteria run rampant and your teeth take the impact by losing mineral density and gaining cavities.

Virginia Eaton March 19 2016 SNOL red-bull-249416The more alkaline the mouth, the more readily the body can replace the minerals that build healthy teeth.

While the mouth tends to be acidic from the foods we eat, as well as the by-product of bacteria breaking down that food, the saliva that bathes the teeth, gums and other tissues in the mouth restores the acid-alkali balance to optimal conditions. When salvia is reduced or absent, researchers saw a significant increase in dental issues.

The researches discovered that the increase in breathing that accompanies exercise dries out the mouth, creating a more acidic environment. Salvia production while running or biking long distances would interfere with breathing so, naturally, the body shuts down saliva production.

If this happens once in a while, there would be no problem but, for those athletes who train long and hard, the teeth suffer.

Virginia Eaton March 19 2016 SNOL chewing-gum-115162According to Bonnie Fralicks, a dental hygienist In Oakhurst, keeping the bacterial load in the mouth low is key to preventing dental and gum decay.

Bonnie echoes researchers’ advice, especially to athletes, to use a Waterpik,-type device, an electric toothbrush, and dental floss often. Bonnie also suggests using products that replace saliva, such as Biotene spray, that can be used before long periods of exercise to keep the mouth moist. Gum and mints that contain xylitol encourage salvia production and also help maintain a healthy environment where it counts.

Virginia Eaton March 19 2016 SNOL teeth-887338Of all the areas that athletes focus on for optimal performance, dental conditions falls pretty low on the list, and while endurance athletes need to be particularly diligent, young athletes also should start paying attention to how their sport is affecting their dental hygiene.

Check with your dentist if you’re not sure if you or a loved one are at risk, and remember that the solutions are fairly simple: a wet mouth is a happy mouth!

Read more of Virginia Eaton’s blog posts here.

Virginia Eaton is the owner of Oakhurst wellness center Class: The Body Pastiche

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