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Laura Dorr is the executive editor of DPR's Modern Dental Network.
Athletes may be in peak physical condition, but that good health doesn’t always extend to their dentition. According to several studies, athletes, particularly runners, are more prone to oral health problems such as dental caries and erosion than the general population.
Several factors, predominantly stemming from training regimens, played into this greater risk of tooth decay, including diet, consumption of sports drinks, and mouth breathing. Runners typically ingest large quantities of carbohydrates during training, which can lower a runner’s oral pH level, increasing the risk of dental erosion and decay. Additionally, runners’ tendency to breathe through their mouths while exercising can dry out the mouth, providing a hospitable environment for bacteria.
Recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, a study by a team of German dental researchers found a significantly higher rate of tooth erosion in triathletes than in non-athletes.
“The trithlete’s high carbohydrate comsumption, including sports drinks, gels, and bars during training, can lower the mouth’s pH level below the critical mark of 5.5,” said study author Cornelia Frese. “That can lead to dental erosion and caries. Also, the athletes breathe through the mouth during hard exercise. The mouth gets dry, and produces less saliva, which normally protects teeth.”
A prior study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined a group of triathletes in New Zealand. The study reported that 83.9% of athletes sampled consumed sports drinks while training, while 93.5% reported eating while training. Only 3.2% of those surveyed perceived training as a risk to oral health.
The studies referenced in this article were published in the June 11, 2014 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, and the September 2011 edition of the International Journal of Sports Medicine respectively. Full versions of the studies can be found here and here.