Are Sports Your Teeth’s Worst Enemy?

 Azarko Marketing  Wednesday, February 25, 2015
“They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth,” Paul Piccininni told the Associated Press in 2014. Piccininni, dental director of the International Olympic Committee, was referencing the dental health of Olympic athletes. And although he was talking specifically about elite athletes, all athletes are at a heightened risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. What Risks Do Sports Pose to Athletes?

Toothaches and bleeding gums plagued close to 20% of athletes that competed at the 2012 London Olympics. Experts theorize that the persistent pain associated with these conditions could have cost these athletes a spot on the medal stand.

While it’d be harsh to say sports are teeth’s worst enemy, they do pose significant threats to oral health.

Sports Drinks and Dental Decay

Many athletes use sports drinks to replace the electrolytes they burn while training or competing. The problem with these drinks is that they are rich in sugar, which causes a lot of dental problems.

When sugar enters the mouth, the mouth releases bacteria to start breaking the sugar down. It’s during this process that the bacteria produces harmful acids. These acids latch onto tooth enamel, wearing it down and softening it until cavities form.

Dehydration and Dry Mouth

Athletes sweat, and they sweat a lot. When you sweat, your body responds by producing less saliva. This is detrimental because saliva is your mouth’s best defence against decay and erosion. Not only does saliva sweep food particles and acid away from teeth, it’s also essential to the regeneration of tooth enamel.

A lack of saliva most often leads to dry mouth, which creates a perfect environment for gingivitis and thrush.

Frequent Meals and Enamel Erosion

Many athletes eat frequent meals to keep their bodies ready to compete. However, frequent eating and snacking leads to a decreased amount of saliva production. It also increases the amount of time teeth are exposed to decay-causing acids.

Stress and Teeth Clenching

Sports require a great amount of effort and concentration. As a result, most athletes clench their teeth at one time or another. And some athletes clench their teeth off the field, which grinds teeth down. Even worse, teeth clenching and grinding leads to sore jaws and persistent headaches.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Teeth?

Fortunately, maintaining your oral health isn’t as difficult as training for a championship game is. Athletes have a lot of options when it comes to maintaining their oral health.

Off the Field
  • Stay hydrated—your body and teeth will thank you. As mentioned above, your body produces less saliva when you’re training. Saliva consists of 95% water, so drink lots of water during practices and games. The amount of water you need to drink depends on your sport, body composition, and metabolism. However, a good rule of thumb is to drink 7-10 oz. every 30 minutes while you’re active.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Protein fuels your workouts, while fruits and vegetables provide vital nutrients to help you compete. These same food groups also benefit your teeth. Crunchy, fibrous vegetables act as detergents in your mouth, scrubbing away acid and plaque. Further, the healthier you eat, the less your body will crave sugary sports drinks.
  • Brush and floss. Athletes always seem to be busy, and as a result many forget this essential step. Remember to brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. And if you do choose to drink sports drinks, you should also rinse with mouthwash twice a day. This will help counteract some of the acid’s harmful effects.
  • Visit your dentist for regular dental cleanings. This is especially important for swimmers, who risk developing “swimmers’ calculus.” Swimmers’ calculus is a condition that sometimes appears when people spend more than six hours per week in a pool. The chemicals in pool water react with the proteins in saliva to form brown spots on the teeth. Regular dental cleanings will help prevent this condition.
On the Field
  • Wear a mouth guard. Keep in mind that sports drinks and dehydration lead to enamel softening. This means that when you drink them, your teeth are extra sensitive to bumps and blows. A mouth guard acts as a buffer around your teeth, and you should consider wearing one even if you don’t play a contact sport. Mouth guards are also great choices for athletes who clench their teeth because they help prevent painful head and toothaches.
  • Invest in extra protection, if necessary. Helmets and face cages add that much more protection to your teeth and jaw. Wear protection at all times—even if you’re just heading out for a pickup game of hockey with your friends.

An ounce of prevention goes a long way to protecting your teeth. Take a look at our other blogs to learn more about keeping your teeth in shape on and off the field.