Tons of articles have been going around lately about how working out is bad for your teeth. Research studies have cited the comparison of healthy adults, both athletic and nonathletic, and have concluded that there are significant differences in the oral health of those who spend a good amount of time endurance training–even the Olympic athletes in London in 2012 showed signs of poor oral health as an entire group.
While most dental-health professionals aren’t surprised at these findings, the state of one’s teeth is typically not a primary concern when in the midst of endurance or strength training, but it definitely should be.
How Saliva Is Involved?
During an intense workout, saliva production decreases. This is significant because saliva production is our bodies’ protective mechanism, bathing the teeth with antibodies and keeping our pH levels neutral. Remember, low pH is acid and this demineralizes teeth and creates an environment for the bad bacteria that cause gum inflammation to thrive.
You might remember from high school chemistry that pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity, ranging from 1 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline, or basic). We also remember that the pH of water is neutral is 7. The pH of the mouth is important because a low or acid pH demineralizes teeth and creates an environment for the bad bacteria that cause gum inflammation to thrive. Pregnant women and people on prescription medications both have changes in mouth pH and need to be even more proactive about their oral health to prevent cavities and periodontal disease.
Acids and carbohydrates in the food you eat can directly and indirectly lead to breakdown of the minerals in your teeth. Your body needs to constantly rebuild your teeth to keep them strong and healthy. The natural pH of saliva hovers around neutral in the range of 6.75 to 7.25, which is the perfect range for this process of remineralization. If the pH drops below 5.5, cavity-causing bacteria flourish and demineralization of the teeth accelerates. The body is no longer able to effectively repair the damage, opening up your teeth to occupation by bacteria that cause dental disease.
When you exercise, your mouth dries out and saliva can’t prevent the pH from dropping. The damaging consumption of sugary, acidic sports drinks (the pH of Gatorade is 2.95, in case you were wondering) during your workout pushes your pH way down into the acidic level. To make matters worse, athletes tend to clench their teeth when exercising, further damaging the surface of their teeth and creating a recipe for disaster.
Here is a simple equation:
Working out = less saliva + force on teeth from exertion = tooth and gum problems
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than cutting out exercise, focus on nutrition. Eating tooth-healthy foods like cheese, meat, nuts, milk and crunchy veggies like carrots and celery that raise the pH help fortify your teeth against damage. Maintain a good oral hygiene regimen by brushing twice a day and flossing nightly.
It’s also a good idea to wear an athletic mouth guard while lifting weights and in competition. If you spend a lot of time training, it’s worth discussing your lifestyle with your dental hygienist, who you should already be seeing regularly. As experts, they can work with you to ensure the best dental care possible. Last but not least, drink water during your workouts, and if you must drink sports drinks, rinse with water during and after exertion.