Without a doubt, your physician has recommended exercise of some variety for you in order to stay healthy. Exercise keeps your body active, can ward off illness, and add to your longevity. But can exercise be bad for your teeth?

It might be a surprising question, but it has been shown that exercise can contribute to dental issues in unexpected ways. We asked Dr. Lunn from Birch Dental Group what we need to know.

The Data

In a study that was published by The British Journal of Sports Medicine after the 2012 Olympics, researchers found that of the 278 athletes that were examined by dentists, the majority had poor oral health with high levels of tooth decay, also known as cavities. It was surprising as athletes at an Olympic level normally do so many things to keep their bodies healthy, how could their mouths be at risk?

The assumption was that athletes were in-taking a high amount of sugary sports drinks or other sugary sweets that have been previously shown to contribute to cavities.

The Cause

As it turns out, while sports drinks can still do damage to your teeth, they were not the cause of the amount of cavities that athletes were suffering from. After a small study, it was found that it was athletes who worked out for long periods of time at a high intensity were more prone to developing tooth decay.

This is because as they work out, their mouths become dry and stay dry throughout the exercise. As you sweat and your body loses moisture, your salivary glands will not be working as hard as they normally would to produce saliva. Less saliva combined with heavy mouth breathing means your teeth are not going to have any of the natural moisture that they need.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a big culprit for tooth decay. It troubles not just athletes, but anyone who has underactive salivary glands. This can be caused from medications or certain conditions, but can also happen from sleeping with your mouth open or, in the case of athletes, heavy exercise.

Saliva is your mouth’s natural cleaning feature. It will remove bacteria and plaque, preventing it from building up on your teeth by washing it away. Without saliva, your dry teeth are completely vulnerable to being attacked by tooth decay. Then you will need to have dental restorations, such as fillings, crowns, or even more major dental work, when you should be targeting the source of the problem.

What You Can Do

The first thing that you should do is not stop exercising. Exercise has too many benefits to give it up because you are worried about your teeth. While sports drinks might not have been the primary reason that athletes suffer from tooth decay, they still need to be avoided. If your teeth are dry and you drink a sports drink to rehydrate, you are putting the sugar from those drinks directly on your vulnerable teeth, putting them at an even greater risk for tooth decay. Sugary drinks should always been avoided because they will always be bad for your teeth.

The best thing that you can do to help protect your teeth when you are exercising is to hydrate as much as possible. If you are a heavy runner, for example, make sure that you are carrying a water bottle with you to help keep your mouth moist throughout a run. Putting water back into your body will also help prevent dehydration, giving your salivary glands more of a chance to do their job.

Generally speaking, daily maintenance is the most important thing that you can do to protect your teeth. Brushing and flossing twice a day will help keep any bacteria and cavities away from your teeth and help keep your mouth healthy. Remember: oral health directly impacts your physical health. Take care of your teeth.

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