Exercise is one of the most important steps to achieving a healthy body and mind, and has always been prescribed as one of the most essential components in an overall healthy lifestyle. However, a recent study has suggested that exercise may not be 100 percent beneficial in all aspects of health. In fact, while exercise works on helping the rest of your body, it may simultaneously be hurting your teeth and contributing to poor dental health.


The German study sought to test the link between serious physical activity and poor dental health, including tooth decay and gum disease. It focused on 70 participants, half of which were triathletes and the other half of which were age- and gender-matched non-athletes. The study examined the teeth, saliva, hygiene, sports beverage/bar consumption, and overall oral health of the participants. While the researchers did not find a link between suspected culprits, like sugary sports drinks, and tooth decay in athletes, they did manage to find some interesting connections which bolstered the notion that exercise could in fact be linked to poor oral health.


To begin with, athletes exhibited higher levels of erosion in the enamel of their teeth and greater risk of cavities than did participants in the non-athletic control group; ailments which increased alongside increases in overall training time.


The German study found that factors like dry mouth contributed to poor oral health in hardcore athletes, as opposed to previously suspected culprits like sports drinks (3news.co.nz)

The German study found that factors like dry mouth contributed to poor oral health in hardcore athletes, as opposed to previously suspected culprits like sports drinks (3news.co.nz)

The researchers also found an interesting change in athletes’ saliva as a result of exercising. Specifically, the more exercise the athletic participants engaged in, the less saliva their body produced and the drier their mouths became. Furthermore, the saliva that they did produce was far more alkaline than the saliva produced while an individual is at rest, a factor which may also contribute to several oral problems, including the development and buildup plaque-causing bacteria.


What do these findings mean for the average individual looking to take on a more active lifestyle? Does exercise pose the specific aforementioned risks to any individual who works out regularly?


The reality is that the athletes who participated in the study were not only a small sample, but also represented the realities associated with particularly rigorous training, and thus may not be as representative of those who are less intense in their exercise routines. As Dr. Cornelia Frese, senior dentist at University Hospital Heidelberg and leader of the study, stated, “the athletes participating in our study had a mean weekly training time of nine hours. They were, in technical parlance, hardcore. All we can say is that prolonged endurance training might be a risk factor for oral health.”


However, findings of the study are interesting nevertheless, as they show an interestingly different dimension to an activity which had previously been considered purely beneficial. The research can significantly impact how we see exercise in light of overall health, and introduces the novel concept that it has the potential to harm a particular aspect of our health while simultaneously promoting well-being in other areas.


If anything, the study at least serves as an interesting reminder that nothing is entirely advantageous. Regular visits to the dentist, attention to proper brushing and flossing; all of these factors are important to maintaining strong oral health, and perhaps may be especially important for active individuals in general. While the benefits of exercise on health far exceed any potential harmful effects, it is important to remain aware that it is hardly a perfect cure-all. Only when exercise is understood in conjunction with other factors that impact health can its true benefits be realized.


Did you know that intense exercise in serious athletes could harm oral health? Share your thoughts on the topic below or tweet me @tamarahoumi