Tooth decay in athletes is common. Athletes and oral health studies show that regardless of practicing oral hygiene, athletes have a high probability of experiencing oral health issues. Around half of athletes will experience tooth erosion, even with regular brushing and flossing. Even with 94% of athletes brushing and 44% flossing more consistently than the general public, they are still prone to gum disease and tooth degeneration.
Tooth Decay in Athletes is Common
While tooth decay in athletes appears to be a small cause of concern, poor oral health negatively impacts the entire body. In fact, a number of people who participate in sports have lower performance levels due to irritation or pain. The same impacts their ability to eat and get adequate amounts of sleep.
Causes of Tooth Decay in Athletes
The underlying issue with athletes’ oral health stems from everyday habits. The aftermath of those regular habits can potentially make routine oral hygiene obsolete. There are five main habits that contribute to oral decay, including:
Sports Drinks and Energy Bars
Sports drinks and energy bars are commonly used to enhance performance without getting dizzy while participating in sports. Unfortunately, most of these energy sources have high sugar content. Sugar, both artificial and natural forms, are high in acidity and increase the probability of tooth decay.
Statistics show of the people who participate in sports, 87% of them drink sports drinks, 59% use energy bars, and 70% use energy gels. Because of the high sugar content in these products, they experience more tooth erosion over time.
Saliva is a major component of maintaining oral health. Saliva protects tooth enamel from erosion, eliminates and minimizes gum disease, and rids oral infections. Saliva is also used to neutralize the acid in the mouth. When someone constantly breathes heavily, oral dehydration occurs.
This is an issue because the mouth begins to create less saliva, leaving teeth defenseless against decay and infections. In fact, the outer layer of tooth enamel is more likely to decay and create root canal infections with a decrease in saliva production. Intense training for athletic events has the same effect on oral health.
In conjunction with daily brushing and flossing, the performer’s diet has a direct correlation to the health of their teeth and gums. For instance, a person who eats leafy greens and vegetables are not as likely to develop tooth erosion as eating carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the majority of athletic diets are high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are beneficial in athletic diets because they give a higher level of energy, allowing the person to perform for longer periods of time with a lower amount of fatigue.
Foods containing starches like bread, pasta, and crackers break down and remain in the mouth long enough to turn into sugars and acid, which are a leading cause of tooth erosion. Once demineralization begins to occur, the likelihood of stopping or reversing it, especially with continued large carbohydrate intake, becomes minimal.
Stress is hugely underrated in reference to health. Stress is hard on teeth and gums in a few ways. For one, stress and nervousness can cause nausea, which can result in vomiting. The acidic content of vomit erodes tooth enamel and contributes to gum disease. Chronic stress levels can also cause tooth decay because of bruxism. Bruxism is the habitual process of grinding teeth together. This process also creates gum disease and jaw issues over time and will negatively impact oral health and physical performance due to pain. Stress also weakens the immune system’s natural responses, which is an underlying cause of periodontal disease.
Stress also encourages behaviors that affect teeth outside of bruxism. For instance, nail-biting is a habit associated with nervousness and stress, which has a negative impact on teeth. Germs are then transferred from the nails and hands into the mouth, which spread to the rest of the body. Stress also causes burning mouth syndrome, which is bad for the gums and teeth and is especially prevalent in females. TMJ, or Temporomandibular joint syndrome, is another potential outcome. This stress-induced condition causes painful swelling, stiffness, and jaw muscle overuse.
Because a number of sports involve physical contact, including football, hockey, soccer, and even boxing, damage can occur if there is little to no protection for the mouth. Without a mouthguard, athletes can experience cracked teeth, a tongue injury, and even jaw fractures.
Improper use of a mouthguard can even cause these injuries. Physical damage from contact sports also creates further issues, like infections. For children and young adults, outdoor activities are one of the leading causes of dental injuries for both primary and permanent teeth.
Solutions for Oral Care in Athletes
Luckily for athletes that are experiencing damage to their teeth and want treatment, there are numerous ways to prevent tooth and gum damage. Using a mouthguard during physical activities, including training, can minimize the risk of cracked teeth. Invisalign is a great way to correct numerous oral issues, including realigning teeth and ending bad breath and gingivitis. Invisalign also protects against chipped teeth and tooth loss.
Another benefit of these invisible aligners is that they can be removed, similar to a mouthguard. The benefit of this is the ability to protect teeth but still brush and floss without interference. Metal aligners like braces make it difficult to remove food particles from the brackets. They also do not have to be tightened or adjusted regularly by an orthodontist.
When deciding to get Invisalign or any form of removable aligners, be sure to use an orthodontist. While dentists can also assist with aligners, orthodontists specialize in creating these for people trying to improve their teeth. Depending on where the athletes live, finding an office and having a consultation to improve sports-related oral damage can be done. Go online and find office locations today.
Be sure to also stay properly hydrated to avoid tooth decay in athletes and continue to brush and floss twice daily for tooth decay and gum disease prevention. Dr. Gluck knows all about this subject and is happy to treat any issue you may have.
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Tooth Decay in Athletes is Common in 2020 | 5 REASONS WHY
Dr. Joel Gluck has practiced orthodontics since 1983 when he opened his own office in Nashville. He earned his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, and his dental degree at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Gluck then completed an orthodontic specialty residency at the University of Michigan, one of the top five orthodontic training residencies in the country. He also wrote an original thesis and received a Master of Science degree.