Do Athletes Really Have Better Oral Health?

by | Dec 7, 2014 | Dental Health

Hi everyone,

Cornelia and Franco Friese are not your run-of-the-mill dental research team; they also happen to be tri-athletes.  Since numerous studies have suggested a connection between good oral health and good overall health, this husband-and-wife research team wanted to take it a step further, and investigate tooth erosion and cavities among athletes and non-athletes.   All things being equal do tri-athletes (those who swim, run and cycle triathlons) have better oral health as compared to non-athletes?


Working side-by-side at the Department of Conservative Dentistry at Heidelberg’s University Hospital, this dental research duo began with a group of 35 tri-athletes and non-athletes as study participants.  Tri-athletes were selected based on their training regimen.  Each athletic participant ran, swam or cycled at least 10 hours per week.  All subjects were given a dental examination for enamel erosion and cavities.  The 35 subjects were split into two groups and given saliva tests.   Each group (athletes and non-athletes) received two sets of tests; one while exercising and then another while resting.

Peak Performance versus Good Dental Health

When we think of athletes, we tend to think of people in great physical shape at the peak of their performance.  But this study which was also published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, gave everyone, including the Frieses’, a moment of surprise.

Looking over the data, all participants of the study were an average age of 36.  But the athletes weighed less and had lower BMIs or Body Mass Index; indications of excellent physical health and endurance.  In addition the subjects in the athletic group were asked to fill out information about their nutritional and exercise habits.   The researchers wanted to determine the nutritional and sports drink intake as well as the level of training for each member of the athletic group.  Compiling the answers, they found that over half (52%) drank water, while 46 percent of the athletes drank sports drinks while training.

Some Surprising Answers

Can you believe they found higher tooth erosion among the group of tri-athletes than among the group of non-athletes?  The research team also found that athletes who trained more frequently also had more cavities than those athletes that trained less.  It might be easy to assume since nearly half the athletes drank sports drinks during training that it might be a contributing factor for the higher rate of dental caries among them.  But that wasn’t the case.

When the saliva profiles were analyzed, the researchers realized that both groups had similar profiles at rest.  But saliva tests taken during athletic training showed a different story.  Each athlete was asked to exercise for a solid 36 minutes before taking the test.  Not only did the athletes produce less saliva while training, the saliva they did produce was found to be highly acidic.

Endurance athletes, just like professional athletes, undergo an extreme exercise regimen which can result in some pretty heavy breathing.  Generally, heavy breathing, with mouths open, can result in dry mouth.  If high acidity levels exist in addition to the dry mouth, the result is lower saliva production.    Saliva is necessary for our mouths to wash away oral bacteria and naturally protect the mouth, tongue and teeth.

The findings from this study may not be conclusive, but it does suggest that endurance training might negatively influence an athlete’s oral health.  With little to no saliva present, oral bacteria can cling to the surface of most teeth, creating a harbor for caries or gum disease to develop long term.

Both Cornelia and Franco Friese have decided to move forward with more research.  Their next study is a controlled, randomized clinical trial to test toothpastes and mouth rinses specifically formulated for marathon runners and tri-athletes.  Until then, those who commit to endurance training might benefit from brushing and flossing after training for better oral health.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or just walk daily for exercise, don’t forget to add visits to our Southfield Dental office  for good oral health.  We can keep you updated on all the latest advancements in dentistry to keep your smile in tip-top shape.  Call us today at 248-356-8790 and discover the difference a great dentist can make!

Until Next Time,

Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790