A cyclist and an oral hygienist seem to have little in common at first sight. However, there is a logical connection. Sports, the quality of your teeth and even the quality of your overall health affect each other. For example, in 2008 the Dutch Dentistry Journal published an extensive study on the consequences for your teeth of a reduced salivary flow due to exercise. An interesting subject that certainly deserves attention, especially now that more and more people are working on a healthier lifestyle. To find out more about this subject, I rang the bell with oral hygienist Annemieke Cremers and former professional cyclist Henk Lubberding.
To get straight to the point, I ask Annemieke Cremers what the connection is between effort and the health of your mouth. How does this work exactly?
“Your saliva is the protective factor for your teeth and it ensures that all processes in your mouth run smoothly. During exercise your saliva production decreases, resulting in a dry mouth and thus a reduced protection of your teeth. When you get sugar from sports drinks, but also from a banana or sandwich, there is an acid attack in your mouth. Normally your saliva neutralises this again, but at times of exertion the acid gets the chance to damage your enamel, the protective layer around your teeth. If this process repeats itself often enough, it will lead to cavities and inflammations.”
Are there effects on the rest of the body besides the mouth?
“Yes, there are. You can also develop inflammation of the gums or gingivitis. Your body is then constantly working to remove the inflammation. When this becomes chronic, the body will eventually break down cells. Not only gum cells, but also bone cells. This can lead to millimeters of bone loss over the years, also called periodontitis.”
I think I’m doing a good job by exercising regularly and replacing a cookie with a banana before or after exercising, it turns out to be less healthy than I thought. Or am I wrong?
“Yes and no. When you do a lot of sport you will eat more and also differently than someone who doesn’t sport. Your body needs more carbohydrates for enough energy. But that also means that you get more sugars, which in turn has an effect on your oral health. In itself this is not a problem, as long as you are aware of what is going on in your mouth and pay attention to it, you are doing a very healthy job. Just as you make your body fit by exercising regularly and eating healthily, you keep your mouth healthy by taking good care of it.”
Regular visits to the dentist and dental hygienist is certainly a good idea. But can we also prevent a saliva shortage?
“Yes, by drinking enough water, you keep your mouth moist. Water also neutralizes the acids produced by sugars.”
Tip: Regular chewing of sugar-free chewing gum stimulates the salivary glands. blue®m chewing gum also contains xylitol, which counteracts the formation of cavities and promotes salivation.
How is it possible that, in general, there is a great deal of attention for health, but oral health is not mentioned a lot?
“Above all, a lack of information and education is the problem. Health is mainly about nutrition and training, rarely about teeth. When it comes to oral health, people think in terms of pain or no pain. There is nothing in between, even though this is an area that is important for your general health. If you have a toothache or other inflammation, you are already too late. By visiting the dentist or dental hygienist regularly, you know how your teeth are doing. I ask, for example, how often someone sports and to what extent, and what is eaten. You can then respond to this by providing the right information and treatment. But of course people have to take the step to the dentist or dental hygienist themselves, especially when you work or want to work on a healthier lifestyle.”
Contrary to the minimal attention that the sports world pays to the oral health of athletes, former professional cyclist Henk Lubberding is very alert to this among the cyclists he still trains.
Can you explain why you do pay attention to oral health?
“Due to a crash with my bike during a tour in 1976, I broke my lower and upper jaw and a number of teeth. At the time they fixed that up reasonably well, but after about three years complaints arose. I performed less and my body recovered poorly in between efforts. After several tests, experts finally found that the poor condition of my teeth led to the physical complaints. After several treatments, operations and use of the blue®m products, I became the old one again. All this has made me realize how important good oral health is. Regular visits to a dentist or dental hygienist and the use of the right care products are essential. This is what I am trying to convey to athletes today.”
Mirte Gratama is guest blogger for blue®m. Her passion is health and she believes that a healthy lifestyle is feasible for everyone. She sees it as her mission to get people moving with practical and feasible tips. Mirte is author of The Health Guide; an accessible and well-organized booklet with workouts, recipes and personal articles and tips about a healthy lifestyle.