IS THERE A CONNECTION BETWEEN EXERCISE AND TOOTH DECAY?
During the 2012 Summer olympics, 278 atheletes were examined by a team of dentists as part of a routine check-up for participants. A majority of these individuals, including those from the U.S. and other countries with access to dental care, were found to have sub-standard dental health, particularly rampant decay of their teeth.
While most of these individuals were young adults and had not been to a dentist in a few years, the findings were still a surprise. Why would olympic atheletes, individuals in peak shape and overall health, suffer from such a disease?
The initial thought was dietary, as many of these folks ate a steady diet of energy bars, recovery sport drinks, and other supplements that are high in sugar. However, during further review, no direct relation between diet and overall dental health could be established, as many people, including non-atheletes, eat the same diet but are not inflicted with the same decay issues.
To take this concept to another level, a study was conducted at the University Hiedleberg Hospital in Germany. 35 atheletes of various sex, race and age were paired with 35 similar individuals who were not atheletes. An initial dental examination was completed, and again the atheletes on average had more decay issues. Both groups ate a similar diet of sports drink and other sugary substances, but the atheletes appeared more likely to suffer from caries.
The atheletes were then subjected to a series of running exercises, each more challenging than the last. Between each set, a sample of saliva was retrieved. As the exercise increased, the salivary flow of the atheletes decreased and thier mouths became drier, no mater how much fluids they consumed. But more importantly, the chemical composition of the saliva changed, resulting in less protection to the teeth that saliva normally provides.
While this study was small, some consideration should be given by those who exercise regularly, especially when training for endurance events like marathons and century rides. To be safe, good oral hygiene and regular dental visits are a must for the modern athelete.