Chiseled bodies and crumbling teeth — that’s the unfortunate truth behind the dental health of many runners and endurance athletes.
Runners may be known for their fit physiques and amazing cardiovascular stamina, but their oral health is far from perfect. According to research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, researchers reported higher levels of tooth erosions in triathletes than in non-athletes.
Although it may be easy to write off oral health risks as nothing to worry about, this small concern can quickly spiral into a major dental problem. So, why are athletes more likely to find themselves with less than healthy teeth?
3 Reasons Running is Ruining Your Smile
Whether you’ve completed a 5K race or a lengthy marathon, there’s no question that running can take a toll on your body. Beyond just endorphins, runners are more likely to experience achy joints and stiff muscles.
The mouth is another area that can suffer due to long distance running. Some of the common ways endurance running can harm oral health include:
- Dry Mouth: While you’re putting in miles, you probably notice that your heavy breathing can lead to dry mouth. A dry mouth isn’t just uncomfortable but it’s also a hazard to your dental health. Saliva is important because it provides calcium, fluoride, and phosphate ions at the tooth’s surface. It also helps to wash away food debris that cavity-causing bacteria can feed upon.
- Frequent Snacking: Runners have to fuel themselves, right? Many endurance runners find themselves snacking heavily throughout the day. While this may be optimal for their training schedules, it’s dangerous for dental health. Each time you eat, the pH in the mouth is altered and becomes more acidic. When the pH in the mouth gets below 5.5, the enamel of teeth will begin to dissolve. Continuing to do this will eventually weaken teeth and make you susceptible to cavities.
- Sugary Sports Drinks: The simple sugars in sports drinks are helpful for fueling muscles but can end up causing significant harm to oral health. Bacteria in the mouth metabolize sugars and create an acidic substance as a byproduct. As we mentioned before, an acidic environment in the mouth will weaken the outer protective layer of enamel, increasing your odds of suffering from tooth decay.
How Can Runners Protect Their Oral Health?
Runners, show your teeth some TLC by taking precautions. Despite the importance of your runs, you only get one set of permanent teeth — be sure to care for them! Some of the best ways you can protect your smile include:
- Stay Hydrated: Avoid the pitfalls of a dry mouth by drinking enough water. You’ll find that staying hydrated will improve your overall health, dental health, and athletic performance.
- Limit Your Snacking: If you can, we highly advise patients to minimize the amount they snack throughout the day. If you find it too difficult to stop snacking, be sure to drink water between your snacks. Drinking water will help to wash away food particles and neutralize acidity in the mouth.
- Steer Clear Of Sports Drinks: Keep it simple and choose water over sports drinks to avoid sugar and its harmful effects on dental health.
- Visit Your Dentist: If you have any concerns regarding your smile, we strongly encourage you to schedule a dental appointment sooner rather than later. Addressing dental concerns as soon as possible will catch problems early on before they develop into more serious issues.
To all our runners here in Amherst, keep running! Just be sure to take extra steps to care for your oral health.