Ways to Prevent Exercise from Damaging Your Teeth

We should all be quite familiar with the potential health benefits of regular exercise for both ourselves and our children, and we work hard to protect ourselves while exercising! We wear helmets while riding our bicycles or playing football, shin-guards while playing soccer, goggles for racquetball, and shoes with proper support while running. One thing we often neglect to protect is our mouth and teeth.  


Below are a few ways we can protect our mouth: 

  1. Mouthguards: A few sports require participants to wear a mouthguard, like football, hockey, and lacrosse. Those requirements have been highly effective at decreasing rates of dental trauma in those sports, but the sports that are currently responsible for the most dental trauma don’t yet require a mouthguard. Baseball is the biggest cause of dental sports injuries from ages 7-12, and basketball wins (or loses?) as the biggest contributor from ages 13-17. Bicycles are the consumer sports product that contributes most to oral trauma, followed by playgrounds, skateboards, roller-skates, and trampolines. The rates of these injuries could be decreased exponentially if we were willing to protect our teeth with a mouthguard.  Getting a mouthguard for ourselves or our kids is pretty easy – the trick is making sure that mouthguard is being worn when the trauma might occur! There is debate as to which kind of mouthguard is best, but in reality, the BEST mouthguard is a mouthguard that gets worn. If the “one-size-fits-all” mouthguard or the “boil-and-bite” mouthguard from a sporting goods store is big and bulky enough that it inhibits speech or breathing, it’s unlikely any of us will actually wear it while exercising or playing sports. Custom mouthguards can be made by your dentist, and will be better-fitting and less bulky – increasing the chance that we will actually be wearing it when we take that hit to our teeth. Talk with your dentist about mouthguard options for yourself and your kids! 
  2. Sports drinks: I hope we all know by now how bad soft drinks are for our teeth! (Of course, the number of Sodalicious stores popping up might indicate otherwise.) Did you know the levels of sugar and acid in sports drinks can be just as bad as those in soft drinks! They can basically be blue sodas without the bubbles. If you or your kids are sipping on Gatorade during exercise or sports, it can be just as damaging to your teeth as sipping a Mountain Dew while playing video games. If you are going to drink a sugary sports drink while exercising, try to reduce the frequency of drinking. Or better yet, change that sports drink out for water. Rarely are any of us exercising hard or long enough to need the electrolytes in those sports drinks anyways. 
  3. And for those who ARE training for a marathon or Ironman (or any vigorous exercise for many hours), you have a special risk: Dry Mouth. Saliva is the most important anti-cavity feature that our body has, and our salivary rate drops significantly while we exercise. Studies have shown that prolonged vigorous exercise can dry out our mouths badly enough that it has a significant increase in our cavity risk. Talk to your dentist about ways to compensate for this risk. 

 Exercise is a crucial part of staying healthy and keeping a high quality of life. Luckily, keeping our teeth healthy while exercising is simple and inexpensive! 


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Written by Dr. Michael Merkley, DDS