Running can be a fabulous way to take care of your heart, maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, and even lead a thriving social life. Unfortunately, it can do more harm than good for your oral health if you’re not careful. Patients can be unaware of the unique set of challenges that runners are faced with in terms of their oral health, but many dentists can spot a runner the moment they sit in the examination chair. Here are a few tips to avoid the oral-health pitfalls of an otherwise-healthy activity:

Stop Opening Things With Your Teeth

This activity is so common-place for runners that they hardly even notice when they do it, but opening up fuel packets, energy bars, or sports bottles with your teeth can chip or damage your teeth in a hurry. Avoid the temptation to rip things open with your pearly whites, and spare yourself the pain (and dental bills) of having to repair the resulting damage.

While We’re On the Subject of Packets, Bars, and Sports Drinks…

All of these are typically loaded with sugar. Yes, we know that this is by design to be easily absorbed as fuel during a long run, but that doesn’t mean much to your teeth, and they take the brunt of the assault. Gels, chews, bars, and drinks pack a double-whammy of being both loaded with sugar and likely to stick to the surface of your teeth for a pretty significant length of time—long enough to contribute to tooth decay. In fact, many runners have a habit of holding a chew or gel in the side pocket of their mouth to dissolve slowly as they run. Great idea for gradual distribution of fuel,but a terrible idea for your teeth.

If you’ve had any dental work done (such as crowns and fillings), be especially mindful of chewy or hard protein bars. These have been known to dislodge or damage dental work, and the last thing you want is to have to cut a good run short to go have a crown replaced.

Avoid holding any fuel, gel, chew, bar, or drink in your mouth for a prolonged period of time, and embrace the swish (grab a big pull of water and use it to “swish” around your mouth, then spit) after every bite or sip of your energy aid. It’s also a good idea to avoid those sugary foods off the trail, and stick to a healthy diet with plenty of water and good oral hygiene habits!

Mind the Mouth-Breathing

Some runners tend to breathe through their mouths during a run, which can leave them a bit dried-out. This can be a problem, as less spit often means more cavities for the runner. Saliva has the important job of protecting teeth and neutralizing acids in the mouth, and it can become less fluid and more mucous-like during heavy exertion. Be sure to drink lots of water during exercise, and chew sugar-free gum during or after your run to stimulate the production of saliva.

Watch For Grinding

Runners are especially prone to clenching or grinding their teeth, both during their run and at night during sleep. Be sure to keep regular dental appointments so that your dentist can look for signs of bruxism. If you begin to develop headaches, soreness in the jaw or neck, or notice increasing tooth sensitivity, it could be the result of clenching or grinding, so consult with your dentist right away. If you are clenching or grinding at night, a mouthguard can help prevent further damage to your teeth. During your run, be mindful of any tension or clenching and try to relax your shoulder and face.

To learn more, visit Dr. Mary Peebles-Turner,DDS and her team at https://broomfielddentist.com/ This dedicated team cares for patients in Broomfield, Colorado.