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The Unexpected Way Running Affects Your Teeth

August 6, 2014

By Amy Marturana

A solid workout can do wonders for your health. From keeping you at a healthy weight to improving your mental health, physical activity is a key component to a healthy lifestyle.

But according to a July 2014 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, physically active people might need to pay extra attention to their oral health. The study, done by the School of Dental Medicine at the University Hospital Heidelberg in Germany, found an increased risk of dental erosion in athletes.

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The study of 35 triathletes and 35 non-exercisers included oral exams and assessments, saliva testing, a questionnaire about eating, drinking and oral hygiene habits, plus training habits, beverage consumption and sports nutrition. They found two important things: As the participants’ total weekly training time increased, so did the prevalence of dental erosions; and, according to a subsample of athletes participating in an incremental running field test, saliva flow rates decreased when intensity increased and saliva pH slightly increased.

When you add into the mix the carbs and sugar in sports drinks and protein bars that you’re likely consuming before and after working out, your mouth now has the perfect environment for cavities, explains Dr. Jessica Emery, cosmetic dentist and owner of Sugar Fix Dental Loft Chicago. “Sugar feeds the decay-causing bacteria. Our defenses against this bad bacteria live in our saliva,” Dr. Emery says, so lower saliva rates makes it harder for your mouth to keep itself clean. The way you breathe plus becoming dehydrated as you sweat both contribute to this dry “runner’s mouth.”

So what does this mean for you? “Any athlete will experience dry mouth from time to time,” says Emery, “but the effects seem to be more prevalent in runners since they don’t always have access to water, and distance runners can be outside for hours on end in the elements which can also exacerbate the symptoms.”

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This doesn’t mean you should stop lacing up and hitting the pavement to maintain your pearly whites. There are a few things you can do to eliminate a workout’s effects on your teeth:

Stay hydrated. This is your best defense against runner’s mouth, since your body needs a water supply to produce saliva. Drink water before, during and after workouts. “If you are a distance runner, consider increasing your salt intake, which allows your body to retain water,” Emery suggests.

Pop a sugar-free mint or gum post-workout. “This will get rid of the dry mouth and allow your saliva glands to start working again.” But sugar-free is key. Sugar will just encourage bad bacteria to grow and make matters worse.

Brush and floss regularly. Twice a day like you’ve been taught. And if your mouth is feeling especially rank after a run, brush and floss then, too. If you notice any sensitivity or pain, go see your dentist.

“Oral hygiene is something every one needs to take seriously when considering their overall health,” notes Emery. Runners and athletes may just need to pay a little extra attention to theirs.

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