fitness and oral health

You may have heard that your oral health and your body’s health are deeply connected. Signs of oral issues can signify greater health problems like diabetes, for instance. But did you know that fitness plays a big role in dentistry, as well? Exercise and physical fitness can actually affect your oral health. Below are several ways fitness and oral health are intertwined, and what that means for your lifestyle.

Obesity Is Linked with Periodontal Disease

A study found that people with a high level of physical fitness and a healthy weight had lower occurrences of severe periodontitis. Researchers used metrics like the body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentages to assess health. They also used maximal oxygen consumption to measure physical fitness.

Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the tissues and bones around the teeth. It can lead to eventual tooth loss if not treated.

Samuel Low, DDS, MS, associate dean and professor of periodontology at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, and president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), said, “Research continues to demonstrate that our overall health and oral health are connected. Weight management and physical fitness both contribute to overall health; and now we believe staying in shape may help lower your risk of developing gum disease. Since gum disease is related to other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, there is even more reason to take care of yourself through diet and exercise.”

Weight-Related Disease and Oral Health

As mentioned above, gum disease is related to other diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It has long been known that people who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, since being overweight puts strain on insulin use in the body. 90 percent of people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

Diabetes in particular is a huge issue in fitness and oral health. Dental complications of diabetes include tooth decay, gum disease, dry mouth, mouth lesions, taste impairment, delayed healing and infections.

So to keep your mouth and body healthy, invest in a regular workout routine.

But Too Much Exercise Can Have A Negative Effect On Oral Health

Here’s the real weird bit. One study found that athletes have a higher risk of dental erosion. The study compared 35 triathletes to 35 non-exercisers. They measured oral health by oral examinations, saliva tests and questionnaires about eating, drinking and oral hygiene habits. In particular, a correlation was found in caries prevalence with increasing weekly training time.

The study makes few assumptions on what could be causing this, simply stating that “risk-adapted preventive dental concepts” should be applied to sports dentistry. But theories abound, like the extreme acid content in sports drinks and pseudodry mouth symptoms caused by open-mouthed breathing during training.    

Combining Fitness and Oral Health

So fitness and oral health have something of a complicated relationship. On one hand, being physically fit can reduce the risk of periodontal disease and the risk of potentially oral health-destroying diabetes. Yet mouth breathing and sugar-loaded, high-acid sports drinks can increase the risk of cavities.

Luckily, the risks are easily mitigated. Try to hydrate with water more often. If you need to refuel electrolytes, consider a natural alternative like coconut water, a nutritional powerhouse.

There’s also a technique called the Buteyko Breathing Method, which promotes breathing out of the nose.

Lastly, consider regular trips to a dentist for teeth cleanings and check-ups.


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