Runners Teeth: Athletes and Dental Problems

5 men running on a track

Endurance sports call for people in top shape. They eat right, the train right, they rock spandex still even though it’s 2014. Runners and other endurance athletes keep a close eye on their bodies and their health. Yet for so much focus on the human body, it seems that runners and other endurance athletes leave themselves very vulnerable to tooth decay and dental problems.

The Root of Runners Teeth

Why do runners and endurance athletes seem to suffer from oral health problems disproportionately more than the regular population? These athletes for the most part have access to dental treatment. It is not as if these runners and athletes are willfully choosing to forsake the dentist. What is the problem here?

Spitzenläufer beim Training im Engadin Photo by Christof Sonderegger

Sports Drinks

We always caution people about drinking sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. For endurance athletes, water doesn’t always cut it. Runners often need the electrolytes in these drinks to sufficiently re-hydrate; and they need the simple sugars for fuel. This is all well and good for the athletes’ muscles, but not for their mouths. Sports drinks are loaded with sugar and are acidic, characteristics that invite cavity-causing bacteria to thrive. Since these athletes are partaking in endurance events, they drink these beverages for long periods of time before they ever have a chance to brush. This provides ample time for acid to demineralize the enamel and sugars to invite bacterial fermentation.

Dry Mouth

Saliva is crucial to a healthy mouth. When the saliva doesn’t flow, the food debris and the bacteria stick. Runners by their nature are heavy breathers. When you’re going the distance, you gasp for every ounce of oxygen, keeping that lactic acid that’s burning your muscles at bay. Such heavy breathing dries out the mouth, reduces the flow of saliva and thus provides a great residence for bacteria. To make things worse, when you finally get to wet your whistle, it’s with a sports drink with enough sugar to get bacteria well on their way to carving out cavities.


Beating Runners’ Mouth

Oral health is one of the most important parts of human health. The health status of your mouth is intricately linked to the health of many other body parts, especially the brain. It would be  a waste to be the best runner, but have no teeth. It’d also be a waste to have a perfect mouth, but abandon endurance sports. So here are some tips so you can compromise.

  1. Rinse your mouth with water after consuming gels, bars or sports drinks. During races, they often times have aid stations with a choice of a sport drink or water. Take one of each and ‘rinse and spit’ with water.
  2. Chew gum when you can to increase salivary flow and neutralize the bacteria in your mouth. The gum should contain xylitol. NO SUGAR!
  3. Brush and floss regularly. This goes for runners, athletes and anyone with teeth.
  4. Ask your dentist about sealants and fluoride treatments. Let them know you’re an endurance athlete and discuss ways to prevent tooth decay.

Dr. Sam Sadati is the owner and practitioner of The Sadati Center of Aesthetic Dentistry in West Palm Beach and a leader in the world of cosmetic dentistry and smile design. He is the only accredited cosmetic dentist in all of South Florida and is one of only forty dentists in the world to receive an Accredited Fellow honor from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Apart from creating beautiful smiles, Dr. Sadati enjoys photography, travel, and the opportunity to tell a good joke.  If you have a question or comment, dental-related or otherwise, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We always reply to our fans and followers!