While running is a great way to get some fresh air and fine-tune the body for endurance, blood pressure, heart health and muscle toning, it can also be somewhat damaging to the body. We’ve all felt those knee, back and joint pains that can come with the strain that running puts on the body, and it takes all the ice and stretching we can get to make those cramps go away.
Now, however, there is a new study that suggests that running may actually be harmful to, get this: your teeth. It may seem unexpected, but runners and race athletes are significantly more at risk for dental erosion. This means that it’s time to start thinking about how exercise can impact every part of the body, including the mouth.
What About My Teeth?
The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, compared the oral health of triathletes and non-runners. The findings suggested that runners are more likely to develop dental erosion and caries, or tooth decay and cavities. Increased time spent training also seems to be associated with greater risk for dental problems. This means bad breath, tooth break down and greater risk for gingivitis, which can land you right in the universally dreaded dentist’s chair. Filling, anyone?
How Does This Happen?
The reasons for this relationship are not quite fully understood, but it’s not just from teeth gnashing or grinding during exercise. One likely factor is the sports drinks and powerbars often consumed by athletes. There is some evidence that sports drinks can lower the rates of saliva flow and acid levels, which can then wear on the teeth over time. These supplements can also impact acid levels in the saliva.
Furthermore, research has revealed that exercise can change the balance of hormones and proteins in the saliva. This can be potentially damaging for the teeth, causing decay and cavities over time.
What Does This Mean For Me?
While definitely a problem, this information does not mean that you should stop hitting the gym (sorry if you were looking for a good excuse!). Running is still incredibly beneficial overall, and this research largely applies to more intense athletes, such as triathletes, marathon runners and olympians, instead of people who run outside or on the treadmill a few times a week.
That said, it’s still important to focus on your dental health. No one like cavities or bad breath, and you only get one set of adult teeth, so do your best to make them last.
So What Can I Do?
There’s no easy solution for this one, unfortunately, but there are steps that runners and athletes can take to protect their teeth as much as possible. The most basic is to practice good oral hygiene. This means brushing, flossing and using mouthwash everyday. Finding a toothpaste and/or mouthwash with fluoride in it is also important to keep them protected.
Additionally, be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise, and especially after consuming sports drinks to help balance out saliva acidity. Even better if you can cut back a bit on those sports drinks and bars and replace them with more natural choices.
Most importantly, listen to your body! This research is still new and solutions are limited, so pay attention to your teeth and talk to your dentist or doctor about any concern that you may have. It may also be helpful to create a dental health plan with them to ensure that you’re running in the safest way possible.
Leading a balanced lifestyle with regular exercise is great, and being a race runner or triathlete is a huge accomplishment. Make sure you can show off your pride and happiness about being so successful with a toothy white smile that’s as healthy as your body and soul.