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Exercise and oral health

Keeps inflammation in check

Karen Miller
Exercise and oral health

The link between exercise and overall general health is well documented. Regular physical activity is essential for cardiovascular, orthopedic, neurological and emotional well-being. But can it impact oral health as well? Apparently so.

Scientists from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied the connection between exercise and periodontal disease, or inflammation of the gums. If unchecked, this inflammation can result in tooth loss. What’s worse, however, is that gum disease is closely linked to premature birth, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions, according to Harvard Medical School.

The researchers from Case Western discovered that nonsmokers who regularly engaged in moderate to intensive physical activity three or more days a week had a 55 percent lower risk for periodontal problems compared to nonsmokers who did not exercise. Even those who exercised three or fewer days a week reduced their risk of gum inflammation by more than 30 percent.

Athletes that participate in rigorous exercise, however, have to use caution. Studies suggest that heavy training might actually have a negative correlation to oral health. In other words, the more hours an athlete trained, and the greater the intensity, the more likely the development of cavities.

Two factors appear to contribute to the excess decay. Many athletes prefer to rehydrate with sports or energy drinks instead of water. It is true that sports drinks restore electrolytes lost during rigorous sports, but that comes with a price. Normally, caries, or cavities, is caused by bacteria that produce acids in the presence of sugar, and there’s plenty of sugar in sports drinks — often the second and third ingredients.

But sports drinks actually don’t require sugar as the intermediary step for the production of acid. They bring their own. One of the best-known drinks on the market contains both citric and phosphoric acid. Citric acid is known to cause erosion of tooth enamel that can lead to decay.

It’s not only what you drink, but how you drink it. Heavy exercisers tend to sip their sports drink throughout the workout, thus exposing their teeth constantly to the sugars and acids. It’s best to guzzle the beverage in one fell swoop, thereby minimizing the unhealthy exposure.

Water is the preferred means of hydration.

Another habit of exercisers may be even more detrimental to dental health than energy drinks. Particularly during intense activities athletes tend to breathe through open mouths, which can eventually lead to a dry mouth and reduced saliva flow. That’s not a good thing. Saliva protects teeth. Its lack creates a perfect breeding environment for plaque and bacteria and the ultimate development of acid.

So keep on steppin’ … but not at the expense of your oral health.

At a glance

Exercise and physical activity are essential for overall health, but your oral health need not suffer for it. These are tips to build your biceps and promote healthy gums at the same time.

  • Keep hydrated, especially during intense activities. Drink water instead of sports drinks.
  • Breathe through the nose instead of the mouth.
  • Follow a healthy dental routine: brush teeth twice a day; floss daily; have regular dental cleanings and examinations.



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