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There is a definitive link between endurance training and oral health issues like tooth decay and periodontal disease.
The combination of sugary sports drinks and snacks with heavy mouth breathing creates oral health problems for athletes during endurance training.
There are ways to help protect your teeth during endurance training including more frequent visits to your dentist, relying on more nasal breathing, and consuming fewer sugary drinks.
Endurance training has become an integral part of the sports world as athletes push their bodies to perform. You don’t even have to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of endurance training for overall physical health. However, you may want to consider how endurance training could be hurting your teeth.
Does Endurance Training Put You at Greater Risk for Tooth Decay?
From cyclists to football players, athletes across sports and at all levels of competition participate in endurance training to improve performance. Unfortunately, endurance training is also linked to oral health issues for many athletes. Despite reporting a good oral care routine, many athletes are noticing tooth decay and inflamed gums.
In August 2019, the British Dental Journal published a study of 352 Olympic and professional athletes involved oral health screenings and questionnaires to assess their oral health and dental care habits. More than 94% of the athletes reported brushing twice daily, but almost half of them had untreated tooth decay and most of the athletes showed signs of gum inflammation.
This is not new information. A 2012 study of 302 Olympic athletes in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found dental caries in more than half of the athletes and erosion of teeth in almost half of the athletes. Most of the athletes (around 91%) had some level of periodontal disease.
How Does Endurance Training Cause Oral Hygiene Issues?
The most common tip for preventing tooth decay is brushing twice per day. How can athletes with better than average oral care habits have so many oral care issues? The answer involves an understanding of the causes of tooth decay and a thorough examination of the athletes’ other habits.
Tooth decay occurs when tooth enamel (the hard, outer layer of your teeth) is destroyed by sticky bacteria called plaque. When you eat and drink foods that are high in sugar or acid, the sugars and acids stick to the plaque which causes enamel to break down. It turns out that the causes of tooth decay creates a double whammy for athletes during endurance training.
First, many of the sports drinks and snacks used during endurance training are high in sugar and contain phosphoric acid or citric acid. Sugary foods and drinks encourage bacteria growth and the acids lead to enamel erosion.
The second issue is heavy mouth breathing. During endurance training, these athletes breathe through their mouths a lot causing dry mouth and decreased saliva production. Without saliva to protect the teeth and wash away debris from the teeth and gums, bacteria continues to build and thrive. The longer an athlete trains, the longer the bacteria is allowed to grow and affect their teeth and gums.
Tips to Protecting Your Teeth During Endurance Training
Endurance training has many health benefits for the rest of your body and it’s necessary for many athletes to perform their best. Thankfully, there are a few precautions you can take to protect your teeth without giving up endurance training.
- Make sure you are brushing and flossing daily. Don’t forget to brush properly!
- Talk to your dentist about a toothpaste with more fluoride to give your teeth extra protection.
- Switch to a healthier sports drink.
- Use the two-bottle method. Whenever you drink a sports drink, follow it up with regular water to wash away some of the sugars and acids.
- Reevaluate your sports nutrition so you’re less reliant on the sugary snacks and gel chews.
- Focus on breathing through your nose more (the added benefits is that nose breathing increases the oxygen absorbing capacity of your lungs).
- Visit your dentist two to three times per year for check-ups and professional teeth cleanings to catch issues earlier and handle any problem areas.
If you’re concerned about the impact endurance training has had on your teeth, Jefferson Dental Care can help. Contact the Jefferson Dental Care clinic nearest you to make an appointment.
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