As a runner, you probably spend a lot of time focusing on the health of your feet and legs. There's another part of the body you should be thinking about, too – your teeth. Recent studies have found that athletes are more likely to suffer from dental problems than their sedative counterparts. Whether you're a recreational runner or a national track star, it's important to take action to protect your teeth.
Why are athletes more prone to dental problems? Most experts attribute this increased risk of tooth decay and other ailments to athletes' high intake of sports drinks and carbohydrate-rich foods. Runners are certainly some of the worse culprits when it comes to noshing on plates of pasta! Dehydration is also thought to play a role by promoting dry mouth, which allows oral bacteria to flourish. Here are a few tips your teeth and dentist will appreciate that will help you stave off these issues while still maintaining your training and racing regimen:
Drink water, not sports drinks, on shorter runs.
While you'll want the carbs in sports drinks to sustain you through runs that last longer than an hour, you don't need them on shorter run. In fact, many runners find that water sits better in their stomachs during hard aerobic workouts such as intervals or tempo runs. Try only consuming sports drinks on your weekly long run – this will greatly reduce the amount of sugar on your teeth compared to sipping sports drinks daily.
Monitor your hydration levels carefully.
This is especially important if you're running endurance distances, such as marathons or half marathons, since dehydration can easily set in on these long runs. When you're dehydrated, your saliva production decreases, which leaves you prone to tooth decay. Make sure you drink plenty of water the day leading up to a long run, and aim for 4 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your run. When you finish your run, pay attention to the color of your urine. If it's any darker than pale yellow, you're dehydrated and you need to drink more next time.
Follow carbohydrate-rich snacks with crunchy fruits or veggies.
Many runners' favorite snacks are carbohydrate-rich pretzels, granola bar and crackers. While these foods do provide the power you need to make it through your workouts, they also leave a sticky, sugary residue on your teeth that can contribute to tooth decay. Ending each snack with a crunchy apple or carrot sticks helps scrape this residue off of your teeth.
Drink sugary drinks through a straw.
When you sip from a cup, the liquid comes directly into contact with your teeth, essentially bathing them in sugar. You can decrease the contact between sugar and your teeth by drinking your sports drinks through a straw. This may sound strange at first, but think about how hard it is to grasp a paper cup during a race and sip its contents without spilling it down your shirt. Tucking a small plastic straw into your fuel belt, and pulling it out each time you drink, is not only better for your teeth, but actually easier once you get the hang of it.
Make brushing your teeth a part of your post-run routine.
After a run, many runners shower, grab a snack and a drink, and do some stretching to prevent muscle soreness. Make brushing your teeth a part of this post-run routine. You'll remove any sugar leftover from sports drinks you consumed on the run, and get rid of the oral bacteria feasting on it, too.
In order to be a successful runner, you need to give your body adequate fuel. Your teeth play a role in delivering that fuel. Don't leave yourself prone to tooth aches and tooth decay that will not only make running painful, but also inhibit your ability to eat. Adopt the practices above, and your teeth will be as healthy as the rest of your lean runner's body.