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Do Athletes Get More Cavities? Research Says Yes

October 23, 2014
5 years ago

Athletes and Oral HealthSerious athletes are usually considered to be some of the healthiest members of society, aren’t they? Maybe they’re ahead of the general population in certain areas of well-being, but when it comes to oral health, new research is saying that runners and athletes who participate in endurance training are more likely to develop tooth erosion and cavities.

The Scandinavian Journal for Medicine & Science in Sports reports that there are two main reasons why runners and athletes who train for long periods of time and multiple days a week are developing dental problems: 1) the drinks and foods they’re refueling with after a workout, and 2) reduced saliva flow.

The Unhealthy Element of Endurance Training

When athletes are panting, sweating, and need to recharge, they are very likely to reach for sports drinks to combat the need for hydration and replenish their bodies with the electrolytes and minerals that are lost through sweating. These beverages, as well as protein bars, are made with the sweeteners and carbohydrates that help delay fatigue. But serious athletes who are taking good care of their body before, during and after workouts are inadvertently doing serious damage to their teeth in the process.

The sugars from these popular sports beverages and snacks feed decay-causing bacteria. Normally, the saliva in your mouth helps counteract any sugars that are swimming around in your mouth, but here enters the second complication for athletes: dry mouth.

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How Athletes Can Prevent Cavities

Saliva has a multifaceted job which includes counteracting acid-producing bacteria and washing away food and plaque from the surface of your teeth. But athletes are very likely to get dry mouth as they exercise. The defense that saliva would normally wage against the ingredients in sports drinks is diminished, and that creates a ripe opportunity for cavities to develop.

Endurance athletes can follow a few simple guidelines to keep their mouth healthy while they’re training (and even when they’re not):

  • Hydrate in a pure way. Drink water before, during, and after your workouts.
  • Chew, chew, chew. Dentists recommend chewing sugar free gum to help produce saliva. And it’s wise to select gum made with xylitol, a natural sweetener that maintains a neutral pH level in the mouth. Altogether, gum and its side effects can help prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth.
  • Be proactive. Brush and floss regularly, and keep up with preventative care, seeing your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning.

Experiencing negative oral health side effects from your endurance training? Whether it’s a cavity you suspect or teeth grinding that’s giving you problems, make your appointment for a consultation with Dr. Ken Cirka at Philadelphia Dentistry to find out what solutions will work best for your teeth.

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