According to new research by a team of German dentists, athletes put their teeth at risk when they train hard. Exertion and the use of sports nutrition products put their teeth at risk of danger that causes their teeth to erode at a significantly faster rate, and the hardest trainers were also at increased risk for cavities.

Erosion and Cavities

In general, runners suffered more extreme erosion, but the runners that trained the most were also at increased risk for cavities. Tooth erosion is when tooth enamel is worn away uniformly as a result of exposure to acidic substances. It affects teeth equally in all directions and can be responsible for widespread damage. Cavities, on the other hand, are the result of localized attacks on the enamel by oral bacteria.

While cavities can be treated with fillings, tooth erosion generally requires the use of a dental crown to fix. Cavities can cause tooth sensitivity, but erosion is more likely to result in significant sensitivity, discoloration, and put your teeth at risk for fractures.

The German study looked at the oral health of 35 triathletes who trained almost 10 hours a week. They took saliva samples during rest and after activity. They also surveyed athletes about their use of sports drinks, gels, and bars.

Why Athletes Are at Risk

dreamstime_s_25764074The primary reason athletes are at risk for tooth erosion is that they subject their teeth to more acidic conditions more often. First, they drink sports drinks that are acidic and contain a lot of sugar. They also eat sports gels, bars, and other carbohydrates when training.

Athletes also breathe through their mouth during exertion, which dries the mouth out. Saliva is the body’s first line of defense against oral bacteria, so in the dry mouth, bacteria grow in greater numbers, resulting in more cavities.

Researchers found that these athletes also tended to produce less saliva during workouts and that the saliva they did produce was already acidic, which means that it wasn’t as protective of the teeth as it should be. And the longer athletes exercised, the more acidic their saliva got.

Make Your Workout Tooth-Healthy

If you want to protect your teeth during your workout, here are a few tips.

Try to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth. This will help keep your mouth moist and allow your saliva to protect your teeth.

Hydrate with water rather than sports drinks. If you do drink sports drinks during a workout, rinse with water immediately afterward.

Limit snacks during workouts. These will feed bacteria and you won’t be able to clean your teeth. If you do have a snack, again, rinse with water and make sure you get all clinging bits off your teeth–those sports bars can be very sticky.

You may be tempted to brush your teeth right after working out, but your teeth may be soft at this time and vulnerable to erosion. Rinse with water and wait half an hour. If you’ve done a long workout, consider using a saliva substitute with a high pH to protect your teeth because your natural saliva might be acidic.

If you want more advice about maintaining your oral health with an active lifestyle, please call (310) 275-5325 for an appointment with a Beverly Hills dentist.