I can run a marathon, but my teeth can barely walk a mile

Tooth cavity caused by too much sugar

I could not believe I was in second place.  There was no one else around me.  I was having visions of the podium and I was on it!  Two more miles of this and the pain would be over.  I had this!  But then…

I hit the “wall”.  I “bonked”.  That’s what endurance athletes call “running out of sugar”.  

My legs shut off like a light switch.  I suddenly had no power.  Walking became my only option.  I was in survival mode.  But I still had enough energy to lift my head and notice at least one thing.  I got passed…twice!  

Within one mile of the finish, my vision started to blur.  But I had no intention of stopping.  When I finally crossed the finish line I could barely see.  I was on the verge of passing out.  But somehow, I was able drag myself to the food tent and grab a peanut butter cookie and a Gatorade.  Within seconds of inhaling calories, my vision came back and the feeling of passing out vanished.

Sugar was my ally in that battle, but often times, it’s my enemy.

These sugars pose a conflict.  Endurance athletes need carbohydrates / sugar to perform, but…

It puts them at a higher risk for dental problems.

Endurance athletes…

  • Take in large amounts of carbohydrates and sugars (e.g. sports bars, gels, and drinks).
  • Eat the above items frequently (every 30-60 minutes)
  • Breathe through their mouths (causes dry mouth)
  • Have less salivary flow when performing (also causes dry mouth)

Negative Effects 

  • Teeth erosion
  • Cavities
  • Mild / Moderate pain from dental problems
  • Local inflammation (tooth infection, gum infection) becomes a chronic systemic inflammation which then reduces athletic performance   

Endurance athletes can’t avoid carbohydrates / sugar, but there are steps they can take to minimize the negative effects.

What can I do?

  • Step up your oral hygiene game.  At a minimum you should:
  • See your dentist 2 x year.
  • Brush 2 x day for at AT LEAST 2 minutes.
  • Brush between your teeth 1 x day (floss, water flosser, interdental brushes, etc.).
  • Stay hydrated all day, everyday
  • Use fluoridated water 
  • Eat real food between training sessions
  • Drink water right after every carb intake while training
  • Use a two bottle system.  First bottle = sports drink.  Second bottle = water.
  • Eat or drink carbs and then follow up with water (swish and then drink)
  • Avoid the sports bars, gels and drinks on easy training days
  • Drink water and eat real food
  • Use a high fluoride prescription toothpaste (talk to your dentist)         

If you’re a high level athlete, you probably have a coach for everything—a strength coach, a running coach, a nutritionist, etc.  How about we call your dentist a oral health coach.  If anything, it sounds cooler.

If you don’t have a dentist and need one in the Taunton, MA area, go see Dr. Mark Turner.  He’ll coach you up and help you avoid that dreadful dental “wall”.      

Mark Frias, RDH


Book your Appointment Today!