Physical activity can do wonders for your overall wellbeing. From helping you maintain a healthy weight to improving mental health, keeping active is an essential component to a balanced lifestyle.
Many runners however, report experiencing dry mouth, or xerostomia, when they exercise.
What is dry mouth?
As you exercise, water is excreted from your body in the form of sweat, which leads to your body being dehydrated. If you don’t replenish the fluid that is lost, the main effect that dehydration has on your teeth is decreased saliva production, or most commonly known as dry mouth.
Dryness in the mouth can increase in warmer weather due to increased sweat production, and runners who breathe through their mouth may also experience dry oral tissues.
What negative effects can dry mouth have on my teeth?
Sugar is the main source for bacteria that causes dental decay. Our main defences against bad bacteria are present in our saliva; therefore a lower saliva rate results in decreased defences in keeping our teeth free of harmful bacteria.
When you consider consumption of carbohydrates, sugar in sports drinks and protein bars before or after workouts, our teeth now have the perfect environment for erosion and decay.
What can I do to prevent dry mouth?
Active people will experience dry mouth from time to time but effects seem to be more prevalent in runners due to not always having access to water. Long distance runners may be running for longer periods of time in elements that can also exacerbate the symptoms further. The way you breathe along with dehydration as you sweat ultimately contributes to dry “runners mouth”.
This doesn’t mean that you need to stop hitting the pavement to help maintain your pearly whites. With these few simple tips you can help reduce the detrimental effects your workout can have on your teeth:
Hydration is an important part of overcoming dry mouth and maintaining fluid levels in the body during running. It is important to drink water before, during and after workouts. Saliva is one of the most important defences we have in protecting our teeth in the oral environment, and since your body requires a water supply to produce saliva, it is important to keep your fluid intake up to help produce adequate saliva.
Use of sugar free mints or gum post workout
Chewing gum or mints helps stimulate your salivary glands to produce more saliva and will help relieve any dry mouth symptoms.
However, sugar free is key. Sugar will only encourage bad bacteria to grow so make sure you are only consuming mints and gums of the sugar free variety.
Appropriate nutrition pre- and post-workout
The main goal with nutrition is to keep it as low in sugar as possible and to avoid anything that will lead to even more dehydration. Try to skip sports drinks high in sugar, and avoid simple carbohydrates for pre-workout fuel. If consuming coffee prior to running for extra energy, be aware that caffeine is known to be a diuretic that can also affect the fluid balance in your body.
Brush and floss regularly
Remember to brush and floss twice a day, morning and night as advised by your dentist. For runners it is important to follow good oral hygiene even after exercise to avoid halitosis, also known as bad breath, that can sometimes be a side effect of dry mouth.
Oral hygiene is something everyone needs to take seriously when considering their overall oral health. Runners and athletes however may just need to pay a little extra attention to theirs.