Is Running Ruining Your Smile?

It’s no secret that running can be great for the mind, body and soul, but what it could be doing to your teeth may surprise you. A new report published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports shows an increase in cavities and tooth erosion among endurance athletes who train for long periods of time, multiple days a week.

The group of researchers evaluated highly active athletes as well as non-athletes. The participants had an oral examination and were given a questionnaire about their dietary and oral hygiene behaviors. The participants were also asked about their training habits and their sports nutrition regimen. It was found that the participants who exercised the longest as well as the most frequently had higher amounts of tooth decay.

Why are runners at risk?

Dry mouth

Dr. Jessica Emery, a cosmetic dentist in Chicago, says runners tend to get dry mouth, at least from time to time, because of how much more they need to inhale runners to take in needed oxygen to be pumped throughout the body. Lack of saliva means the mouth can’t wash off the teeth, which, Dr Emery says, can put the teeth at risk.

Sugar fix

Runners may have more to wash away on their teeth than non-runners, too!

“Expending that much energy requires an increase in carb and sugary food intake like sports drinks and protein bars,” notes Dr Emery.

She says when we add sugar for fuel, the combo can cause problems. “Sugar feeds the decay-causing bacteria. Our defenses against this bad bacteria live in our saliva. Because of this sugary food, the dry mouth that comes with the way we breathe during our exercise and the dehydration that comes with sweating for long periods of time, these make a perfect trifecta for cavities.”

Sugar is the main culprit behind cavities and dental erosion. Tooth decay occurs when sugar and starches remain on teeth and form plaque. Bacteria in our mouths digest these remains and turn it into acids which destroy the enamel surface of teeth and creating small holes.


Dr Emery offers these tips to protect your pearly whites:

1. Drink More Water

The most important defense against runner’s mouth is hydration. It is pertinent to always drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts. Staying hydrated will also keep you away from the sugary energy drinks.

If you use a gel for fuel, make sure you swish water in your mouth after, since the gels usually contain a lot of sugar.

If you are a distance runner, consider increasing your salt intake as well. Salt allows your body to retain water for your long run.

2. Chew Gum

Right after you finish your run, pop in a piece of sugar-free gum to kick start your salivary glands and get rid of dry mouth.

3. Give Your Teeth Some TLC

It is important to continue brushing and flossing on a regular basis. Maintaining good oral health will prevent cracks in teeth and cavities from forming.

4. Listen to Your Aches

As you power through a run, your heart pumps blood to all your muscles. Increased circulation can heighten sensitivity in your mouth. If you start to feel a pain or ache, make an appointment to visit the dentist.

Don’t let the fear of dental erosion keep you from enjoying the great weather and taking some time for yourself. A de-stressing run will put a smile on your face. Just make sure that your teeth are in as good of shape as you are after that long run!

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