Dr. Michael Handler

The Effects of Sports and Fitness on Your Dental Health

By Dr. Michael Handler

Effects of Sports on your Dental Health

Working out, keeping fit and playing sports are all important to help you maintain good health. That’s what we have been taught throughout our lives, and it’s so much a part of our belief system that we spend thousands of dollars on gym memberships, sports participation and equipment, and overall healthy activities. But how good is physical exercise for your dentition? Are there risks you should be aware of, and what steps can you take to protect yourself from compromising your oral health?

Positive Effects

Before we dive head first into the bad news, let’s take a look at the positive effects of exercise on your oral health. A 2005 study shows regular exercise lowers the risk of developing gum disease in 54% of subjects, while people who exercised only a few times a week also had a 33% lower risk of periodontal disease than inactive people. There’s also an obvious link between an appropriate BMI (Body Mass Index) and oral health, and people who maintain a healthy weight through engaging in exercise and eating a high-quality diet are 40% less likely to develop dental health issues.

Negative Effects

With all these positive results, why would there be any bad news at all, you wonder? We believe a balanced viewpoint is paramount in helping you make healthy decisions for your life, however, so we’ve covered all aspects of the issue.

Injury Risk

The most obvious risk for anyone participating in physical activity is the threat of injury to the mouth. A hard knock from the wrong angle can not only leave you minus a few front teeth, it can cause soft tissue injuries to your lips, tongue, inner cheeks and gums.

Without treatment, these injuries can develop secondary infection. Loss of or damage to one or more teeth can cause your other teeth to shift, resulting in bite problems and potential difficulty eating and speaking, along with the possibility of temporomandibular jaw (TMJ) pain and disorders.

Sugary Drinks

The challenge of staying hydrated presents an often-unnoticed risk to dentition from working out. Sports and energy drinks might be packed with the electrolytes your body needs, but a 2012 study published in the General Dentistry journal indicates they also contain so much acid that drinking them for just 5 days can cause damage to your teeth. In addition, by sipping the drinks during workouts your teeth have more frequent exposure to the sugars than would be caused by simply downing a whole drink. You’re effectively bathing your teeth in acid, all the time.

Saliva Composition

A 2014 study published by the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports examined 35 triathletes and a similar-number control group, and tested the pH balances in their saliva. People who spent more time in physical training had a higher risk of cavities, as well as a noticeably higher pH or alkaline content in their saliva. They also produced less saliva. The study concluded that working out boosted alkalinity, which combined with the reduced amount helped to neutralize the proteins in saliva that prevent tooth decay.

Mouth Breathing

It’s all about the saliva, and how it protects your teeth. During sports or fitness workouts, people often breathe through their mouths. This dries up the saliva flow and gives the bacteria a great environment in which to reproduce and thrive, increasing your risk for tooth decay.

Protective Measures

Most of these challenges are preventable by taking some basic measures to protect your teeth, including:

  • Wearing a mouth guard during sports to protect yourself from unexpected injuries
  • Drinking water instead of sports drinks. By drinking as soon as you feel thirst, you can minimize your body’s requirement for electrolytes in sports drinks. Try coconut water for rehydrating during heavy exertion – it’s low in natural sugars and has anti-inflammatory properties as well.
  • If mouth breathing is a common issue for you, try the Buteyko breathing method to relearn how to breathe through your nose during exercise. Here’s a video from top Buteyko trainer Patrick McKeown to help you.

Regular Dental Checkups

Regular examinations remain your first line of defence in the war against tooth decay, along with a comprehensive daily oral hygiene program. For athletes and fitness buffs, don’t wait until you discover a problem to get to your dentist. Rather, schedule an appointment ahead of time so you have an oral health benchmark before you begin training. Tell your dentist about the physical activities you take part in, and get advice on any additional steps you can take to protect your dentition.


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