Looking after your teeth as an athlete

Dental care is an issue that many people don’t really consider when they are thinking about their sport. But a couple of problems can arise with your teeth as a result of the sport you love to play, and you need to take care of your pearly whites! How else will you be able to devour that big chunk of steak the night after a hard training session?? And of course, you need to have that winning smile when you are standing on top of the podium with a cheesy grin on your face!

MOUTHGARDS AND CONTACT SPORTS

This is a fairly obvious one, although it is often overlooked by many athletes. Contact sports often involve an accidental (or sometimes not so accidental) knock to the mouth, head or jaw. These sorts of impacts can easily result in a chipped or broken tooth, or worse, a missing tooth or teeth, which is not great. A broken tooth can be rather uncomfortable; and dental bills to fix damage to a tooth can be quite expensive, from  hundreds of dollars for a broken tooth, to many thousands to replace them. There is also the possibility of having a tooth or two cut through your lip or the skin around your mouth, which can be quite painful. This sort of injury may also require a few stitches to heal, which can mean scars. Not good.

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So what type of mouthguard should you be using? While the cheap, self-moldable or pre-formed mouth guards you can buy from sports shops and pharmacies may seem convenient and easy, they usually cause problems. As they cannot be moulded or shaped for a perfect fit, they often result in ulcers and gum problems. Add to which, they are often uncomfortable, which can lead them being left in your sock, sports bag, or anywhere but your mouth! Head to your dentist instead. It may cost you a fair bit more (custom fitted mouthguards can cost anywhere between $150 and $300), but the end result is worth the expense.

TOOTH DECAY AND SPORTS NUTRITION

Tooth decay, or dental caries, is caused by a combination of bacteria and the presence of sugar. Over time, tooth decay will produce holes in your teeth, commonly known as cavities.

While this might not be much of an issue for non-endurance athletes, it can be an issue for those who are out training and competing for more than 90 minutes at a time. With endurance sports comes the need for extra food and energy intake; and convenience is embraced. Energy gels, high energy sports bars, lollies, sports drinks….the list goes on. Slamming down a can of soft drink is also a fairly common sight for some athletes, both during and after long events (or is that just cyclists??)

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These types of food sources are great for topping up your energy in a quick, convenient fashion, but they can cause dental problems. After eating or drinking, the high sugar content in many of these products usually results in some sugar being left in your mouth, which is not the best for your teeth. Combine this with a lack of saliva as a result of constantly breathing through your mouth, the bacteria that cause tooth decay begin to have a field day!

TOOTH EROSION AND SPORTS DRINKS

Dental erosion is caused by acidic conditions gradually wearing away the surface of the teeth. Unlike tooth decay, this doesn’t result in holes in your teeth, but they can become short and stumpy in appearance, chip at the edges and become quite sensitive.

Many sports drinks are quite acidic. Regularly drinking these types of fluids can slowly result in the softening and loss of the surface of your teeth. And if you are silly enough to push yourself to the point of vomiting, the juices in your stomach are just as acidic as battery acid, which will also wear away at your teeth!

In addition to these issues, the humble coffee stop which is usually associated with cycling can also create a few issues. Just one cup of coffee a day, on a regular basis, can begin to cause discoloration of the teeth, leaving staining. Caffeine also reduces the flow of saliva in your mouth….saliva is your teeth’s natural defence against decay and erosion.  In addition, some of the ingredients of coffee can combine with mouth bacteria to produce an acidic environment, which can lead to tooth and enamel erosion…..again, not the best for your teeth.

So what can you do? Well, while you are out training or competing, brushing your teeth directly after eating and drinking is not really the easiest thing to do! The best thing you can try to minimise dental issues is to give your mouth a good rinse with water. This has the added benefit of helping you to top up your fluid intake! In addition to this, remember to brush your teeth twice a day. Try to avoid brushing soon after consuming acidic products though, as your saliva can help heal the soft tooth surface….but not if you’ve brushed it off and spat it down the sink. Flossing will also help get rid of any bacteria which may be living between your teeth. Using a fluoride toothpaste with each brushing is a good idea; and if you are at a higher risk of dental problems, your dentist may recommend a higher strength toothpaste, or even a regular fluoride rinse. If you suffer from dry mouth, you may also find an artificial saliva spray or rinse rather useful.

Remember….a regular trip to the dentist will also help to detect and fix any problems nice and early; and regular dental examinations can help to prevent damage to your teeth as a result of decay or erosion. Let your dentist know about your sports activities and diet, as they can provide expert advice even before there are visible signs of damage. Don’t worry, most dentists aren’t that scary!

 

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