Los Angelinos tend to care a lot about their health. Gyms are pretty much ubiquitous, as are yoga studios and the like, and for anyone who’d rather do their workouts outdoors, there’s always Muscle Beach. In the process of staying in shape, though, the fitness freaks among us may be hurting their teeth.
Increasingly, scientists are discovering that dental health is directly correlated to overall well being.
Poor dental health, rather, has been shown to have a statistically significant and deleterious effect on the rest of the body. Heart problems in particular may very well be a direct result of periodontal disease.
The mechanisms behind this connection are well understood, and the stress-based inflammatory reaction we’ve talked about recently is believed to be one of the principal culprits. The same stress hormones that precipitate the deterioration of gum health also damage blood flow throughout the body. In that way, it’s not so hard to believe that bad teeth could stop your heart.
What’s far less intuitive is the reverse: That having the strongest heart possible could take its toll on your mouth.
But that’s what dental researchers in Germany seem to have found, in a study released this June.
The correlation isn’t a product of internal factors, as in the case of periodontal disease and heart trouble. Instead, the study found that people who exercise intensely and at regular high volume tend to have more cavities and more dental erosion than a control population.
The study looked specifically at triathletes who trained more than 10 hours per week and determined that for a variety of reasons, committed endurance training is detrimental to oral health.
For one, distance athletes tend to consume heavy carb diets. During training especially, sugary gels and bars and sports drinks are commonplace, even necessary. This has all the bad effects you would expect it to, especially when compounded by other aspects of training.
Heavy exertion leads athletes to start breathing through their mouths, which restricts the flow of saliva, the mouth’s natural protection against tooth decay and an ameliorating pH-neutral substance that prevents the buildup of the acid byproduct of bacteria breaking down all those energy boosts.
What’s more, the researchers found that the athletes’ saliva itself becomes more acidic the longer exercise lasts, upsetting the mouth’s natural state and facilitating the activity of harmful bacteria.
Drinking water instead of sports drinks could be one way to mitigate these effects, also serving the purpose of keeping the mouth moist. Chewing gum could also be of benefit, as gum has been shown to increase the production of saliva and to loosen trapped food particles in the mouth.
The researchers will now be looking at special toothpastes and treatments that could prevent exercise from damaging teeth, but until then, they recommend brushing immediately after running.