Just like going to the gym, brushing your teeth is part of your routine. Or at least it should be.
A new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that athletes who train heavily are particularly at risk for dental problems.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) called for oral health examinations. The results were similar to those found during 2012 Summer Olympics, where medical examiners looked at over 250 athletes and reported high levels of tooth decay, enamel erosion and even gum disease.
The IOC suggested, as have other studies, that athletes' dental problems could be linked to drinking high amounts of sugary sports drinks. But the more recent study from the Scandanavian Journal did not find that to be the most likely reason.
Researchers recruited 35 triathletes and 35 non-exercising individuals of comparative age and gender. The subjects all visited a hospital's dental lab where they received an oral examination and completed a questionnaire regarding their regimen—diet, exercise habits, sports drink and beverage consumption and hygiene routine. Fifteen of the athletes began a running field test, where their saliva was collected several times at intervals.
The results showed a significant correlation between overall weekly training time and dental erosion and tooth decay, meaning that the athletes showed significantly greater tooth enamel loss and tended to have more cavities. According to these results, the more time an athlete spends working out, the more likely he or she is to have dental issues.
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Although researchers found no difference in the amount or type of saliva between athletes and non-athletes both at rest, the athletes who went for the run produced less saliva. And in the running athletes' saliva, pH level (or level of alkaline) increased as the workout continued. Alkalinity in saliva is thought to contribute to tartar plaque growth on the teeth, reports the New York Times.
Saliva, in general "has a very protective function" for teeth, says dentist Dr. Cornelia Frese, who led the study. Saliva has enzymes responsible for beginning the process of digestion and breaking down food particles trapped in dental crevices, thereby preventing bacterial decay.
Keep in mind this is only one small study in which athlete participants, on average, exercised nine hours a week. Whether less-frequent exercise would lead to a similar impact on oral health is unknown.
However, if you're an athlete of any sort, and especially if you undergo prolonged endurance training, taking every dental precautionary measure definitely can't hurt. In addition to brushing, flossing is an absolute must. Throw mouthwash and/or a fluoride rinse into the mix to make sure your teeth stay extra squeaky clean.
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