Research has shown that exercise lowers the risk of gum disease and supports good oral health. You’d think professional athletes would have pretty healthy mouths, right?
A new study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports shows a much higher incidence of tooth erosion among triathletes. What’s more, those who train the most also suffer a higher rate of cavities.
“The triathletes’ high carbohydrate consumption, including sports drinks, gels, and bars during training, can lower the mouth’s pH below the critical mark of 5.5,” [researcher and marathoner] Cornelia Frese told Runner’s World Newswire. “That can lead to dental erosion and caries. Also, the athletes breathe through the mouth during hard exercise. The mouth gets dry, and produces less saliva, which normally protects the teeth.”
This comes on the heels of a study published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which found oral health problems to be particularly pronounced among elite athletes participating in the 2012 London Olympic Games – much worse than that of the general population.
Researchers looked at 278 athletes across 25 sports, primarily from Europe, Africa, and North and South America. More than 40 percent said they were “bothered” by their oral health—28 percent said it impacted their quality of life, and 18 percent felt it affected their training and performance in their sport of choice. Fifty-five percent of athletes had some kind of tooth decay, 45 percent had dental erosion, and there was a hearty amount of gingivitis as well.
Again, the same culprits are cited.
Honing their bodies through intense physical effort, athletes refuel with energy drinks, gels and bars and frequent meals, which teeth don’t like. Dehydration from sweating can also cut the production of saliva needed to regenerate tooth enamel.
Some rowers, for example, have “huge amounts of decay” because they’re training in boats for hours at a time, refueling with teeth-eroding acidic, sugary drinks, said Tony Clough, who set up the dental clinic for Olympians at the 2012 London Games.
Other factors include stress, as well as clenching and grinding – both at night but also while straining during practice and competition alike.
A good reminder of the need for mouth guards and hydrating with water to minimize the effects of intensive sport on oral health.