Why Endurance Runners Have More Cavities: Oral Health for Athletes

April 11, 2015

451855347A study conducted in 2014 aimed to evaluate the correlation between endurance training and compromised oral health, a relationship that had been previously discovered but not thoroughly investigated. Today, we’d like to take some time to talk about the various ways that endurance training can affect your oral health.

Running & Tooth Decay: What’s the Connection?

The two don’t seem to have much to do with one another at first glance. After all, exercise is good for you, right? People who work out regularly are typically less prone to health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But can your time at the gym actually give you cavities? According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, it certainly can.

Researchers studied 70 men and women, half of whom were triathletes who trained nearly 10 hours per week running, swimming, and cycling. The other half of the group was comprised of non-exercising controls to ensure the validity of the study. Tests included saliva assessment, dental exams, and questionnaires regarding oral hygiene habits as well as dietary choices during training. The researchers discovered that nearly half of the triathletes consumed sports drinks rather than water during exercise and that 74 percent used sports bars or gels.

Often full of carbohydrates and sugars, these products bathe the teeth in the types of compounds that acid-causing bacteria love to eat. This significantly increases the risk of dental caries, or cavities. A carb-heavy diet has also been linked to increased pH levels in the mouth, another problem that is commonly associated with cavities. It was also found that a decrease in saliva production – coupled with breathing rapidly through the mouth during exercise – contributed to an environment that is more conducive to enamel erosion.

Reducing Your Cavity Risk

Naturally, we’d never tell you to quit your running or exercise routine in order to preserve the health of your pearly whites. There are, however, some things you can do to mitigate potential damage. Staying hydrated is a top priority as it aids in proper saliva production. Avoid sugary sports drinks and snacks, and opt for a cool bottle of water and fresh fruits or cheeses instead. Of course, home hygiene is as important as ever, so be sure to brush and floss twice daily.

If you have any other questions about how exercise affects oral health, please feel free to give us a call. Our Burlington, MA dental office proudly serves patients from communities in Bedford, Woburn, Billerica, and beyond.