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What is the connection between exercise and bad teeth?

If you watch media ads featuring smiling athletes, you might get the impression most athletes have perfect teeth, but a research study done at the 2012 London Olympics suggests this is not true.

Surprisingly, this study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that a majority of the 278 athletes examined at the Games showed “poor oral health”, with “high levels of tooth decay, gum disease, and erosion of the tooth enamel”. How could that happen? [Too many sugary sports drinks? No.]German researchers tried to figure out the reasons for the bad dentition, and published their conclusions in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. They examined the saliva and the oral health of 70 individuals—half competitive triathletes and half matched healthy adults of the same age, but non-athletes.

Besides studying their mouths, the researchers also investigated their diet (including use of sports drinks), as well as how well the athletes took care of their teeth. They found the problem was not their diet, or differences in how well they took care of their teeth— the problem was the change in their saliva while exercising.

While working out, the saliva flow of the athletes decreased and their mouths dried out, but also the pH of their saliva changed to become more alkaline. In the athletes who exercised longer and harder, these changes were even more pronounced.

We can think of our saliva as our body’s natural way to clean our teeth and prevent decay. While saliva is over 99% water, it is also full of valuable enzymes, electrolytes, and natural antibacterial compounds that help prevent bacteria from attacking our teeth and gums and causing cavities and gum disease. Of course, saliva is not enough, and to really prevent problems, we need to take care of our teeth through proper brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits.

These research studies suggest that competitive athletes—and those of us who spend lots of time exercising—need to take even more precautions than normal. Drink adequate water during strenuous exercise to help keep hydrated but also to keep your teeth from drying out. Avoiding candies and sugary drinks will help, and if you do have drinks or sports bars that contain sugar, brush, or at least drink water afterwards to help clean away the sugar.

Brushing at least twice a day helps, along with nightly flossing and regular deeper cleanings by a dentist. Besides that, keep exercising. Just pay a bit more attention to your mouth. Who knows, maybe someday you or one of your children will star in one of those ads with the smiling soccer star.

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)