Are Athletes More Prone to Oral Health Problems?
Playing sports may affect an athletes oral health. Here are some reasons why.
An athletes oral health may be more prone to problems than the general population. I think most people would assume that the answer to the above questions is a resounding No. Actually, the answer is Yes! Athletes in general, are concerned with their physical health. For peak performance they need to maintain muscle fitness, eat properly, and they want to look and feel good.
A recent article in “Decisions in Dentistry,” “Managing Oral Health Challenges in Athletes”, October 2016 noted that “The training required of both professional and recreational athletes is physically demanding. While sore muscles and overuse injuries are common among athletes, oral health can also be adversely affected.” The most prevalent athletes oral health problems are the following:
- Tooth clenching that results in excessive and irreversible wear of teeth
- Tooth grinding or bruxism which also results in excessive wear
- Tooth erosion which is the loss of tooth structure due to acidic attack as seen in people who drink excessive amounts of soda.
- Xerostomia or mouth dryness
How are athletes oral health more affected you might wonder? One of the major muscles that closes the mouth is called the masseter muscle. Studies have shown that when large muscles in the legs, arms and back are activated, the masseter is also activated. We have all seem the ‘grimace face’ of weightlifters and sprinters. The masseters are contracting and the teeth are touching forcibly which, over time, causes wear of the hardest structure in the body, the tooth enamel.
The the same article noted a study linking clenching your teeth with improved body stability. This may affect participants in several sports. Our office tries to let our patients know that your teeth could only contact if you are chewing or swallowing. Can athletes maintain the desired stability without clenching? I would hope so for the sake of their teeth! Chronic bruxism or clenching can also lead to problems with the TMJ or jaw joint, the muscles of the jaw that make all the things we like to do with our teeth and our mouthed possible or the bone supporting the teeth may be affected. Teeth could become loose or bone may be irreversibly lost. Teeth, crowns and fillings could fracture.
Tooth erosion depends on the erosive agent and the amount of time that the teeth are exposed. Competitive swimmers may expose their teeth to slightly acidic water for hours at a time. Many endurance sports encourage mouth breathing which, of course, leads to a dry mouth (xerostomia) which can lead to increased decay and gum disease. Plaque forms easier and is more sticky and damaging on dry teeth and tissue leading to problems with an athletes oral health.
What can be done for athletes oral health?
- Mouth guards may protect the teeth from some of the effects of clenching and grinding.
- Teeth that have been eroded can be aesthetically and conservatively restored (Ask Dr. Gillis! She would be happy to discuss options with you!)
- Topical Fluoride treatments help form a protective barrier on the surface of teeth.
- Over-the-counter fluoride rinses i.e., Listerine with Fluoride can help
- Chewing gum during exercise especially sugar-free boosts protective saliva production – but use lozenges and gum during sports with caution to avoid choking!
Keep on exercising but take care of your teeth, your mouth and yourself!