Sports and Your Teeth: Know the Risks, and Keep Your Smile Healthy
Participating in sports is a great way to engage in the community and stay healthy, no matter what your age. If you and your family make staying active through team or individual sports a priority, you need to make sure you do what you can to prevent injury. While many people stretch, tape, and massage sore muscles to avoid harm, dental health is often completely overlooked.
While the active lifestyle will do wonders for your body, without the right protection and prevention techniques, your teeth will suffer. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your teeth safe when practicing and playing the game.Hydration and Sports Drinks
For best performance, it’s essential to stay hydrated. However, during serious training where you work out for hours, you need more than just water. You need to replenish electrolytes that are lost through sweat. Most people, especially teens, use sports drinks as a quick way to recover lost nutrients from serious training for team sports like soccer, wrestling, or track events.
Unfortunately, most of these drinks are high in sugar and expose your teeth to an acidic environment. It’s best to choose water for moderate exercise; most people don’t need sports drinks for regular workouts. For high-energy games and long-distance events, the story is different. Look for sugar-free electrolyte supplements, or make your own using coconut water and salt additives.
Staying hydrated is also an important part of dental health. When your mouth dries out, your saliva is not able to consistently wash over the teeth, disturbing the bacteria that settle there. Without ample saliva, bacterial acid affects your teeth at an accelerated rate, which could explain the correlation one study found between physical training and cavities. This study was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.
Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your workout combats this problem, especially getting plenty to drink before getting started. Properly hydrated athletes will have clear or light-yellow urine and will sweat amply during periods of heavy exertion. Lack of sweat is a sign you need fluids. Never be without water, especially during games or training sessions that last a long time.Breathing
As the exertion of exercise increases, your body compensates by breathing more deeply and more quickly. Many people start breathing through their mouth instead of their nose, taking in as much air as they can, especially if they are getting tired during exercise. Mouth breathing can have the same drying effect on the teeth as dehydration.
It’s important to train yourself to breathe more slowly and with more control in order to protect your teeth from drying out through excessive mouth breathing. If you need to breathe quickly, focus on breathing in through the nose and exhaling quickly through the mouth. The air you release is moister than the dry air of your environment, so it will have less of a drying effect.
The best way to breathe is through the nose as much as possible. As your fitness level increases, you should attempt to breathe through your nose as best as you can.
Try increasing your ability to breathe through your nose by gradually increasing your breathing count using your diaphragm. Start by breathing in for two counts, and out for two counts. Then increase the duration to three and three, four and four, etc. This pattern will not only keep your teeth safe, but it will help you improve your performance, especially if you practice before a workout.Damaging Exposure
Finally, it’s important to reduce your exposure to damaging environmental factors or injury. For contact sports like wrestling, football, and rugby, wearing a mouthguard is essential. For sports that are aggressive or competitive even though they have less physical contact (like soccer or baseball), mouthguards are still a wise investment.
Many lost or broken teeth can be prevented by wearing a properly-fitted mouthguard. For solo sports, you might still consider speaking to your dentist about a mouthguard if the sport has a high incidence of accidents or combat, like judo, mountain biking, or snowboarding.
Your teeth are also protected by wearing a helmet. In case you have a head injury or impact to the side of the head, your jaw is protected. Breaking your jaw permanently affects your tooth health and alignment. Helmets are essential for biking, boarding, skiing, and horse-back riding, but they also a good idea to wearing during training sessions in skating.
Furthermore, if you are a swimmer, take care to brush your teeth carefully after your swim, because chlorinated water can stain your teeth and increase your risk of decay.
If you swim in a private facility, be sure that either you or the caretaker for the pool monitors the pH, as swimming water can easily become too acidic for your safety. You can purchase water testing kits to help you determine is the water is safe for swimming. The ideal pH is 7.4—just slightly basic from neutral.Positive Benefits
All of the above precautions should not discourage you from committing to an active lifestyle. Those who exercise are more likely to have better gum health, with a significantly decreased risk of periodontitis.
For more information on protecting your teeth during sports, contact us at Dr. Jerry F. Maymi & Associates.