MOST OF US TAKE OUR teeth for granted. Yet, think about how important the functions your mouth performs for you. Your mouth and teeth are the gateway for breathing, eating and drinking. The long digestive process begins in your mouth. The demands of endurance training, as well as the substances you put in your mouth, impact the healthy function of both your teeth and your entire body. Turns out that endurance athletes are particularly susceptible to dental erosion and its far-reaching effects on our bodies.
We take for granted that regular brushing alone is enough to keep us healthy. Or, perhaps it’s too expensive or inconvenient to go to the dentist regularly. However, the evidence is overwhelming that oral health is a crucial element in overall health, well-being and athletic performance at all levels.
Two Main Causes of Dental Erosion
There are two main reasons why endurance athletes are at increased risk for dental erosion: consuming sugary sports drinks and nutrition and heavy mouth breathing.
Sugary Sports Foods
Frequent small sips of sports drink or other sugars while training, spares muscle glycogen, but negatively impacts your teeth. Sugar consumption increases acid producing bacteria that begins the cascade of potential problems. Most sports drinks also contain phosphoric or citric acid which further erode tooth enamel. A compromised tooth is now more susceptible to bacterial build up, leading to a list of potential dental problems: plaque, cavities, gingivitis, inflammation, unresolved infection, periodontitis, etc.
However, sugary sports drinks were not the main cause of dental erosion.
Full Body Effect
If left unchecked, prolonged bacterial build up in your mouth will negatively impact how your whole body functions and performs. Advanced dental erosion has been implicated in many disease states, such as: osteoporosis, pneumonia, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Long, hard training for days, weeks and years can leave your immune system stressed. Add to this an increased bacterial load in the mouth and your immune system struggles to keep up with demand.
Steps to Improve Your Oral Health
You can improve your oral health while continuing to enjoy and thrive with your endurance training and racing, even reverse or eliminate current problems. Here are action steps you can take:
Brush and floss daily
See your dentist for check ups 2 to 3 times each year
If you have any nagging tooth pain or unresolved dental problems, get this taken care of right away
If you need ongoing specialized care, look for a sports dentist in your area
Using a Sonicare toothbrush, water flosser (Water Pik) and Listerine will improve your oral health dramatically (in addition to brushing and flossing)
Decrease your consumption of sports drinks and other sugary sports foods. Rinse your mouth with water after consuming sugars. There is a time and place for these foods during hard training blocks and races. Work to reduce them during easy and short sessions. Instead, drink plain water or coconut water. You can also add electrolytes.