A new study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, found serious runners have a higher degree of tooth decay than their couch potato peers. The study tracked 35 tri-athletes and 35 people who did not exercise. The researchers found that the runners produced less saliva and the saliva they do produce has a higher pH balance, both of which contribute to a higher degree of tooth decay.
When a runner is exercising, they tend to breathe through their mouth. This constant and elevated flow of air dries the saliva in your mouth. Once the saliva has dried, your body will replace it, but it takes time. A second factor that reduces the saliva in your mouth is sweating. If you are sweating a lot your body is using its water to cool down, instead of putting it into saliva production. These two factors feed into each other. The more you run, the quicker your mouth dries and more water is necessary to replace the saliva. However, the more sweat you produce the less water is available.
Saliva is integral in a mouth’s health. It helps you break foods down and washes away the left-overs after you finish eating. Saliva also helps to control the bacterial buildup in your mouth. However, in a dry mouth food particles will stick around much longer and bacteria will be free to reproduce out of control.
The researchers were quick to point out that they are not advocating for laziness. Instead, they outline a number of steps that runners can take to avoid being caught without saliva.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water. The more dehydrated you become the harder it becomes for your body to produce saliva. Don’t force your body to choose between sweat and saliva. Being well hydrated will also help your body in a number of other ways.
- After a workout chew on a piece of sugar-free gum or pop a sugar-free lozenge into your mouth. Having something to suck or chew on will jump start your saliva production. Make sure it is sugar-free, though, or it could be more harmful than helpful.
- Brush your teeth and use mouthwash after a run. This will help to control the bacteria in your mouth that would normally be washed away by saliva. This will act as a stopgap until your body can get your saliva levels back to normal.
Dr. Mike Malone and his team practice expert cosmetic dentistry in Lafayette, LA. Dr. Malone is the former president and current accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is also the official Cosmetic Dentist of the Miss Louisiana USA and Miss Louisiana Teen USA pageants. Check out his website for more information.