Sometimes, what begins with good intentions has unintended, negative consequences.
Take working out, for example. People do it to strengthen their bodies and improve their overall health, but they also can damage their dental health in the process. Numerous studies and dental professionals have found that vigorous exercise can harm teeth, gums and the jaw without proper techniques or equipment being used.
The problems often start with jaw-clenching or teeth-grinding. Both are common during high-intensity workouts or certain demanding sports. Someone who engages in such strenuous activities on a regular basis may have developed clenching or grinding habits, and over time they will feel the results.
“Weightlifters or others exerting maximum effort often clench their jaw, and the cumulative effect can be fractures, chips, or holes in their teeth,” says Dr. Shab Krish, author of Restore Your Rest: Solutions for TMJ and Sleep Disorders. “The constant stress of lifting can also damage your jaw joints - a potentially very big problem.”
Other oral health issues can surface as a result of exercise, and Dr. Krish gives tips on how to prevent them while working out vigorously:
- Wear an oral appliance. This puts a thin barrier between the upper and lower teeth - far better than leaving them unprotected. Dr. Krish suggests a custom-made appliance—one aligning and supporting the jaw—by a dentist for optimal effectiveness and comfort. “You need the kind of oral appliance that not only protects your teeth, but your jaw, facial and neck muscles as well,” Dr. Krish says.
- Breathe through the nose. A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that mouth-breathing during exercise dries out the mouth. The result is a reduction of saliva—which protects the teeth—and that creates an environment for bacteria, leading to more tooth decay. “Nose-breathing can improve your airflow and relax your jaw and neck muscles, which reduces clenching,” Dr. Krish says. “It also has physiological advantages—increasing your lung absorption capacity and helping lower blood pressure.
- Ease up on sports drinks. Drink water for the healthiest hydration, Dr. Krish stresses. “Sports drinks refuel the body with electrolytes, but they also tear up your teeth by eroding enamel and causing cavities,” she says. A study in the clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry found that excessive acid in sports drinks can damage teeth after just five days of consumption. Natural coconut water without additives and bottled or tap water with lemon are healthy alternatives.
“We all know exercise is great for us,” Dr. Krish says. “Dental damage while exercising is kind of the untold other side of the story, and the challenge is to get the utmost out of physical activity while knowing how to prevent damage to your mouth, jaw, and gums.”
Dr. Shab Krish, author of Restore Your Rest: Solutions for TMJ and Sleep Disorders, is director of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of North Texas (www.krish.com). She has board certifications with the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain and the American Board of Craniofacial Dental Sleep Medicine. She is also a double specialist in both periodontics and endodontics.