It’s important to work out, play sports and stay in shape in order to maintain a healthy body and mind.  To that end, millions of Canadians hit the gym multiple times a week, are out on the paths jogging or cycling, playing organized sports in the evenings and doing home workout routines for a better lifestyle. Exercise is trending upwards, and people are becoming healthier everywhere – it’s a great thing for society!  How good is all this exercise for our teeth and oral health though?  We spoke with a handful of local dentists to get their take on the exercise-oral health connection.  

Here are some of the major things we found out:

Lots of positive effects

Exercise and oral health have a generally positive connection, since what’s good for the body is usually good for your teeth.  There’s definitely a major positive correlation between things like a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) and oral health, because healthy people are typically eating right and taking care of their bodies as well as their teeth (brushing, flossing, dental checkups).  For teeth, this means less bacteria, less gum disease and less tooth decay – all factors that can have a negative effect on overall health.  Bad oral health can lead to heart disease and other serious complications making it a truly major aspect of overall health.  A healthy body contributes to a healthy mouth, so eat right and get the exercise you need.

Now for the negative effects of exercise on your teeth

Let’s be clear, exercise is vital, so regardless of the negatives we’re about to list – you still need to do it regularly (but do things properly).

Risk of injuring your teeth

This is probably the most obvious exercise negative in terms of your teeth – tooth damage.  Anytime you engage in a physical activity, you increase your risk of accident.  This could be tripping and falling while jogging, or catching a ball, puck or elbow in the mouth while playing an organized sport.  Missing a tooth (or teeth) might not seem like the end of the world but it can cause complications like infection, causing other teeth to shift, problems chewing food and lasting damage to the jawbone and joints of the mouth.

Accidents happen and teeth get damaged so what can we do?  Wearing protective gear is the best solution and a mouthguard is an important piece of protection.  These days mouthguards can be pretty small and are comfortable to wear and are highly recommended.  Ok, maybe not for your morning run, but they should be worn for any type of ball or contact sport to minimize risk.  Speak with your dentist about mouthguard options if you play sports regularly.

Clenching and grinding your teeth

It’s common for athletes, especially weightlifters in the gym, to put a lot of pressure on their teeth, gums and jaw by clenching their teeth during exertion.  While it’s natural to screw up your face, clench your jaw and make grunting noises when you’re pushing through a set, you should take care of your teeth.  Clenching and grinding could lead to cracking or chipping a tooth and will cause the enamel on your teeth to get worn down rapidly leaving your teeth exposed to cavities and decay.  If you cant stop clenching on your own, consider wearing a mouthguard to exercise.

Mouth breathing during exertion

Any form of exercise, provided you’re doing it correctly, will cause you to breath more heavily.  Oxygen is great but the problem is that getting more of it usually means breathing through your mouth.  This causes your mouth to dry out and makes it easier for bacteria to thrive and take hold on your teeth.  When your mouth is closed, saliva is flowing and keeping things lubricated while working to flush bacteria out.  Try to breath through your nose as much as possible and don’t forget to let your saliva do its job even while you train.

Your saliva composition changes too

Hardcore athletes, like those training daily under heavy exertion often produce less saliva and have a noticeably more alkaline (higher pH level) saliva.  This isn’t great for your saliva’s ability to neutralize sugars and proteins to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.  Being cognisant of this helps, because it allows athletes to take steps to offset the issue by rinsing their mouth more often and staying well hydrated, especially during exercise.

Sugary energy drinks

Exercise dehydrates us and that means we need to put the liquids back in constantly.  That’s where many athletes reach for energy drinks like Gatorade and Powerade to get the hydration and electrolytes they need.  These sports drinks replenish the body quite well but are often also packed with sugar and a lot of acid.  So much so that drinking them daily for a week can cause damage to the tooth enamel.  The dentists we spoke to all recommended the same thing – vary your intake of energy drinks with water.  What that means is take a few sips of an energy drink (for the electrolyte replenishment aspect) but then make sure to drink some water right after.  The amount of sports drink liquid your body needs to get the required electrolytes is much less than the quantity of water needed to rehydrate.  Energy drink first, then water after for teeth saving rehydration.  Swishing, and spitting is recommended too so that your mouth gets a good rinse.

Other protective measures you need to use

  • Mouthguards (for impact and clenching)
  • Drink lots of water (or rinse with it after consuming energy drinks)
  • Breath through your nose instead of mouth breathing
  • Visit the dentist for regular checkups and professional cleanings to keep your teeth in top condition



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Joel Levy