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Exercise And Cavities: What You Need To Know For Your High School Athlete

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A recent study has connected extreme levels of aerobic exercise to a higher risk in dental cavities. Although the study was conducted with adult triathletes, you may wonder whether the results relate to your active teenager. If your teenager is involved in school sports, there are a few things you should consider to make sure they have healthy teeth and gums throughout their adolescence. 

Know How Much Your Teen Works Out 

While American teens are notorious for skipping the daily recommended amount of exercise, there is a small group of teens that are involved in highly competitive school sports that require rigorous training programs. For instance, some track and field programs require their students to participate in 1.5-2.5 hours of training, 6 days a week, and while coaches may be trained to deal with strained and fatigued muscles, it is unlikely that they are concerned about dental health from prolonged aerobic activity. 

If your child is involved in sports, find out what their workout schedule is like, have a peek here and talk to their dentist about whether this may increase their risk for tooth decay. 

Know Why Exercise May Increase Tooth Decay

Although high levels of physical activity and tooth decay are related, it is still unclear as to what the exact cause is. One theory is that the level and composition of saliva changes while athletes are engaged in extended aerobic activity. Since saliva is critical in protecting teeth from bacteria, its reduction during workouts may create a time when bacteria are free to attack your child's teeth. 

Another possibility is that minerals in your child's diet that are critical for the remineralization of their teeth are used in other areas when your child engages in extreme workouts. 

Know How to Protect Against Cavities 

If you know your child engages in high levels of physical activity, there are ways to protect their teeth against cavities without having to reduce the amount they work out. Some things you should consider include: 

  • Encourage your child to chew sugar-free gum, especially before and after workouts. Sugar-free gum can increase the amount of saliva your child produces, helping to protect their teeth against decay. 
  • Make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals. If you are afraid your child may not be getting enough minerals, discuss adding a supplement to their diet with their doctor. 
  • Consider the benefits of oil pulling with coconut oil. Oil pulling, the practice of slowly swishing oil over the teeth and gums each morning, can help provide important minerals directly to your child's teeth. 
  • Make sure your child is brushing and flossing correctly. You may want to have your child bring their toothbrush with them to their next dental checkup and have their hygienist fix any bad habits they have while brushing. 
  • Consider increasing the frequency of your child's dental visits. If your child visits the dentist twice a year, you will be more likely to catch decay early. Also, consider scheduling a checkup at the end of their sport's season. 
  • Ask your child's dentist about sealants. Sealants are put on the teeth as a barrier against bacteria, and an active child may be a perfect candidate for sealants. 

It is important to realize that just because high levels of activity and cavities are related, it does not mean that your child should stop exercising. Exercise provides many health benefits. However, it is important for you to help your child take a proactive stance against tooth decay and create lifelong oral hygiene habits that will reduce their overall risk for cavities and other oral problems related to their high level of exercise.