needs to take care of their teeth, but athletes can have a
special burden. The sugary drinks, dry mouths, sweating and
falling can each take a toll, some more than others, says Dr.
Sharon Colvin, an athlete and an assistant professor in the
department of general dentistry at the University of Maryland
School of Dentistry. Hereís an edited transcript of a
Q&A with Dr. Colvin.
athletes more prone to experience problems with their teeth,
or just endurance athletes?
has been my experience as a runner and power walker as well as
a dentist for almost 30 years that athletes/endurance athletes
do face some challenges when it comes to oral care. However,
athletes are more prone to experience problems with bodily
injuries versus problems with their teeth. They also tend to
be particularly meticulous about self-care, which can actually
help with their oral health.
most damaging to an athleteís mouth: extra sugar and carbs
in sports foods and drinks, extended periods of dry mouth,
sweating or falling?
whatís most damaging is the extra sugar found in sports
drinks such Gatorade and protein shakes and sports foods like
protein/meal replacement bars. Surely dry mouth coupled with
heavy consumption of sports drinks, protein shakes, and food
bars high in fermentable carbs (sucrose, fructose, and
glucose) would be the most damaging to the athletesí
mouth is the result of the absence of a normal flow of saliva,
or "spit," throughout the oral cavity. Without
normal salivary flow, the food which remains in the mouth
after a meal is not washed away; the acid produced by specific
bacteria in the mouth, which penetrates the tooth and causes
decay, is not neutralized; and the first-line defense, the
immune property found in saliva to prevent bacterial
overgrowth, is diminished. These factors, coupled with a heavy
consumption of sports beverages and foods high in sugar, can
lead to rampant tooth decay.
mouth may also be the result of an underlying medical disorder
(e.g., Sjogrenís syndrome) or it may be the result of a side
effect of medication: antihistamines, decongestants,
painkillers or diuretics.
runner/power walker who happens to take medication for
hypertension (a diuretic), I am very conscientious about my
sugar consumption in an effort to prevent tooth decay. I brush
and floss before and after meals or rinse vigorously with tap
water until I am able to brush during my workday. At night
before going to bed, I brush, floss and rinse with tap water
and an over-the-counter fluoride mouth rinse.
athletes better off sticking to water, and how often should
they take a drink?
Water, without question, is considered the ultimate thirst
quencher for the endurance athlete and it is better for teeth.
However, low-sugar sports drinks (like G2, which is a
low-sugar Gatorade) offer the water necessary for hydration
plus the carbs and electrolytes that tend to provide the
energy we need to stay strong in the race to the end with less
sugar. Plus, the flavors found in the sports drinks help to
take the monotony out of drinking just water. During my
half-marathon race, I found that drinking a small amount of
water and Gatorade (G2) every two to three miles helped me.
However, everyone is different, and athletes should gauge the
amount of hydration they need, and how often, while training
for a given race.
sugar-free gum help, or are there other methods to help
athletes protect their teeth?
have found that when I am engaged in training for a race or in
the actual race, gum chewing of any kind gets really
"slimy" and a little distracting, so I donít chew
gum during my endurance activities. There are fluoride mouth
rinses that can be used before and after a race. Also, rinsing
with regular tap water, which contains fluoride, can provide
protection against tooth decay caused in part by a high
consumption of sports drinks, protein shakes/food bars.
pain the only way to identify when there is a problem, and
when should an athlete see a dentist?
is one way to identify when there is a tooth-related problem.
However, mobile teeth and teeth that are hypersensitive to
sweets and experience lingering discomfort (longer than a few
seconds) when exposed to a cold or hot beverage/food item are
examples of other ways one may identify a tooth problem that
should be addressed. As far as the frequency of dental visits
by athletes is concerned, the American Dental Association
says, "There is no one-size-fits-all dental treatment.
Some people need to visit the dentist once or twice a year;
others may need more visits. You are a unique individual, with
a unique smile and unique needs when it comes to keeping your
smile healthy." I concur. Athletes are unique
individuals, and when one is to see a dentist, or how often,
is contingent upon the specific needs of the