Medical Corner

Teeth and sports – a topic that is often forgotten

Runners who want to improve their performance typically think of more extensive and intense training. An increase in dietary supplements often accompanies that increase in activity.

Because the athletes are often caught up in the training and all that goes with that, hardly anyone thinks about the increase in high sugar foods and acidic drinks, which can cause an increase in stress on the body and possible poor oral hygiene. All of these problems can compromise good dental health and are common in athletes.


In addition, runners who work hard with inadequate water intake can suffer from a decrease in saliva which can lead to dry mouth, rough lips and gum infections. Athletes in general, and in particular runners, tend to predominantly breathe through their mouth. This results in a drying of the mucous membrane and this can cause additional aggravation to a runner. On long runs, the constant fluid intake with sugar and acid containing energy drinks, and an energy bar or gel necessary for energy boosts, seriously endangers the heath of your teeth.

Photo Caption: Sports drinks can endanger our teeth
Photo Caption: Sports drinks can endanger our teeth

Saliva is our natural “toothbrush”- if it does not flow, the sugar and acid that is in all of our standard isotonic drinks and bars, is not washed away. Your mouth becomes a paradise for bacteria! Yuck! Tooth decay and gum disease are directly related to bacteria and plaque. Without regular saliva flow and proper oral hygiene the destructive bacteria thrive. Bacteria thrives with the additional sugar and acid, and this causes plaque to form. Plaque is the great enemy of teeth and gums.

Ritualize brushing your teeth (especially after exercise with drinks and gels), so it becomes habit.
Ritualize brushing your teeth (especially after exercise with drinks and gels), so it becomes habit.

Some simple precautions can make for a tooth-friendly workout:

  • If possible, take along ‘dental gentle’drinks on long workouts and be sure to drink lots of plain water with them. Tea or highly diluted fresh fruit juice is also good. Add a pinch of salt, and you have a wonderful electrolyte drink.
  • After meals and any competitions be sure to drink a full glass of water.
  • After meals and competition chew a piece of sugar free gum to help stimulate saliva production.
  • Make brushing your teeth as much a part of your post workout routine as taking a shower.
  • Use fluorinated oral hygiene products! Fluoride makes teeth more resistant to acid. Once a week, use a high dose fluoride gel product.
  • Floss regularly as well. This will also help prevent tooth decay and the development of gum disease.
  • At a minimum, have a professional teeth cleaning once a year, and ideally try to obtain a cleaning by a dental hygienist once every six months.

Good oral health should be an objective of all athletes!

This blog was designed by Karin Hophan, prophylaxis assistant

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