Athletes Derive Many Benefits
The very best athletes among us can achieve fame and fortune. But you don’t have to be good enough at a sport to go pro, go to the Olympics or get an athletic scholarship to see you through college to have a better life thanks to your participation in athletics.
Playing a sport is fun. For many people, so is simply working out. If you get your exercise in the company of others, perhaps on the tennis court or a spin class, that physical activity can relieve stress and be a source of socialization and friendship, too.
On the most basic level, exercise is good for your cardiovascular system and your physical health in general. It gives you added energy, keeps your muscles strong and limber, and can keep you doing things you’re accustomed to doing well into your senior years without any trouble.
So it’s small there wonder there isn’t a physician anywhere who wouldn’t endorse the idea that being an athlete is good for you. But there is a caveat. Athletes should be aware of some special issues that pertain to their teeth and oral health.
Athletes and Their Teeth: Injury
If you’re banging together with others in a contact sport, you can easily see how you could break or knock out a tooth. You may be less concerned if you’re not playing a contact sport, but the simple fact of vigorous physical activity raises the possibility of a mishap, perhaps in the form of getting hit in the mouth with a baseball or slipping and falling when running on the track. Wearing a mouth guard protects against chipping, breaking, or knocking out a tooth. That said, if you do knock out a tooth, clean it off, put it gently back in the socket if possible and hold it there until the dentist can look at it. Otherwise, put in between your cheek and gum or in a container of cold milk. If you chip it, collect the chips. Then call your dentist’s office immediately. You should see him or her within the first six hours after the injury if the tooth is to be secured back in place or repaired.
Athletes and Their Teeth: Sugar
Many athletes turn to sports drinks, energy gels, and workout supplements to achieve peak performance. All of them contain plenty of sugar. The sugar produces acid in the mouth, the acid attacks tooth enamel, and over time, the individual is likely to end up with tooth decay, gingivitis (gum disease), and/or halitosis (bad breath). From the standpoint of your oral health, it’s a better practice to hydrate with water. Not only does the water lack the sugar, it actually contains fluoride to strengthen your teeth.
Athletes and Their Teeth: Carbs
Just as athletes often use sports drinks and similar products, they’re apt to eat high-carb meals, especially on the eve of a game or competition. Unfortunately, the starches in high-carb meals break down into simple sugars whereupon the athlete ends up with the same situation he or she would have if he or she chugged sports drinks. If you’re not willing to give up the high-carb meals entirely, at least limit them and always brush your teeth after consuming one.
Athletes and Their Teeth: Dry Mouth
You might not realize how important saliva is to your dental health. It washes away debris and bacteria, neutralizes acids, and strengthens tooth enamel, all of which serves to defend your teeth against decay. In the same ways, it also protects against gingivitis (gum disease) and halitosis (bad breath.)
When playing their sports or working out, athletes tend to breathe through their mouths. There are reasons to do this, but it can dry up that protective saliva and produce dry mouth. For that reason among others, athletes should drink lots of water and be faithful about their dental hygiene routines.
Athletes and Their Teeth: Stress
Some competitive athletes experience considerable anxiety before a game or match. The anxiety can make them grind their teeth or vomit.
Persistent grinding of the teeth is a condition called bruxism. Over time, it can break down tooth enamel, produce temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, and cause considerable discomfort.
Throwing up brings acid into your mouth that can lead to tooth decay and related problems as described above.
If you’re prone to either of these behaviors, talk to your dentist about potential remedies and preventative care.
Athletes and Their Teeth: The Takeaway
Athletes have special concerns related to oral health, but there’s much they can do to keep their teeth and mouths in good shape. Eat the right foods, keep to an effective dental hygiene regimen, see the dentist twice a year, and wear protective gear as indicated for your particular activity.