Most people who exercise do so for their health. Science has repeatedly shown us that regular exercise extends our lives and decreases our risk of disease and early death. But while exercise might be great for your health, could it be bad for your oral health? It turns out that’s a bit of a complicated question.
Weight Lifting Damages Teeth… Kind Of
There are plenty of different types of exercise, from cardio to strength training. But weight lifting in particular seems to be putting teeth at risk of damage thanks to the body’s natural response to lifting weight: Gritting your teeth.
One weight lifter recently blogged about her experience discovering tooth damage that her dentist attributed to her exercise regimen. After discovering a hole in one of her teeth, she visited a dentist only to learn that it was most likely a result of her strength training, something she considered to be a healthy habit.
When we lift large amounts of weight, it’s natural to grit and grind our teeth. And while enamel is extremely strong, that also means it’s strong enough to damage other enamel if there’s a lot of friction. This gritting and grinding, called bruxism, can lead to wear and tear on teeth, including chips and cracks. All of this wear opens up teeth to cavities, and can also cause cosmetic problems.
The solution? If you find that you’re gritting your teeth through your weight training, a mouth guard may be a good idea. You can pick up a store bought mouth guard if you want to try it out, but if you want to take your smile’s safety seriously in the long term, it may be a good idea to get a custom mouth guard made by your dentist to perfectly suit your teeth.
It’s also important to make sure that your bite is healthy. If you have TMJ or other bite dysfunction, it can put excess stress on your teeth. If your bite is healthy, the forces are evenly distributed on your teeth, and you should be able to maximize your core strength without clenching your teeth.
Sports Drinks Don’t Help, Either
Of course, it isn’t just the exercise that’s hurting your teeth. If you have a habit of chugging sports drinks like Gatorade before or after (or, heaven forbid, both) your workout sessions, the high acidity and large amounts of sugar could also be damaging your enamel and putting your teeth at risk of cavities, not to mention some cosmetic staining. One 32-ounce bottle of Powerade contains a whopping 76 grams of sugar (for comparison, a Coca Cola only contains 44 grams), and Gatorade isn’t far behind.
Instead, stick to water for hydration. When it comes to electrolyte replacement, salty snacks like nuts and dried meats can provide the sodium that a sports drink does without all the sugar.
In the end, although certain facets of an exercise routine can put your teeth at risk, the answer isn’t to stop exercising! Instead, pair your healthy exercise habits with healthy oral hygiene habits by keeping an eye on your teeth and discussing best practices with your dentist.