Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can Running (And Other Endurance Sports) Lead To Worse Dental Health?

Picture by Jason Lee from Flickr
While out with my son earlier today, I met a patient asking why I hadn't written recently. I told her that since Luis Suarez and his teeth attracted attention for all the wrong reasons recently at the World Cup, I'll be writing a post on teeth as well. She then asked me what does running have to do with teeth?

Well here you go Audrey, a post on how running (or endurance exercise) can affect your teeth.

A group of German researchers studied a group of triathletes and non athletes and found that the triathletes had significantly higher rates of tooth erosion. What's more, among the athletes, those who trained harder had more cavities than those who trained less.

The researchers found that 46% of the athletes consumed sports drinks while training, while 51% drank water. 74% used gels or bars during training. Both groups revealed no significant difference in cavities, but those who trained the most amongst the triathletes had the most cavities. There was also a highly significant difference in the triathlete group for tooth erosion.

Like me, you must be starting to scratch your head and wonder why. Well, due to the triathletes high carbohydrate consumption of which includes gels, bars and sports drinks during training, their mouth's pH levels are below 5.5 (and  hence acidic), leading to dental erosion and cavities. In addition, during hard training, the athletes breathe through their mouth, making the mouth dry and produces less saliva (more acidic), which normally protects the teeth.

Note that both groups had similar saliva profile at rest. Only when the athletes begin exercising then they had less saliva. Degree of acidity increased with the length of time spent exercising.

The researchers concluded that endurance training has a detrimental effect on oral health.

This view has been raised before by Needleman and colleagues who found poor dental and even overall health in many Olympic athletes at the London 2012 Olympics (Needleman et al, 2013). Prof Tim Noakes suggested that this may happen due to their high carbohydrate diet and the frequent ingestion of sports drinks.

So make sure you brush your teeth following your bike or run session, especially if you've consumed gels, bars or sports drinks during or after your run.


Needleman I, Ashley P et al (2013). Oral Health And Impact On Performance Of Athletes Participating On The London 2012 Olympic Games: A Cross-sectional Study. BJSM. 47:1054-1136.doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092891.

Frese C, Frese F et al (2014). Effect Of Endurance training On Dental Erosion, Caries, And Saliva. Scan J Med Sci Sports. doi: 10.1111/sms.12266.

Always clean your teeth after you run
Picture by doc18 from Flickr

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