When it comes to cavities, there are the usual suspects to blame: soda, sugar, shoddy brushing. But other chomper wreckers may fill your daily routine, too. Keep reading for 5 unexpected dental culprits—and the best ways to stop them.
Long cardio workouts may take a toll on your pearly whites, a new German study found. The researchers compared the oral health of endurance athletes with non-exercisers and found that the athletes were more likely to have tooth erosion, which is a gradual wearing away of enamel. And the more time they spent training per week, the greater their risk of cavities.
That's because exercise reduces your saliva, the researchers found. Saliva is filled with minerals that nurture your teeth and neutralize acids that cause wear and rot. On top of that, consuming sugary energy gels and acidic sports drinks during training can encourage tooth decay, says Men's Health dentistry advisor Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Your fix: Since you have less saliva during long training sessions, battle decay-causing bacteria and plaque by brushing before you exercise and rinsing your mouth with water after consuming anything sugary or acidic, Wolff says. Plus, chewing sugar-free gum when you work out can boost your saliva production, says study author Cornelia Frese, D.D.S., a senior dentist at University Hospital Heidelberg in Germany.
It's a natural tendency to clench your jaw when you strain to lift weights, Wolff says. It may even improve performance by increasing blood flow to parts of your brain associated with motor control, recent research finds. But all that pressure can wear down your teeth or even crack them, causing persistent pain in your jaw, he says.
Your fix: If you bite down hard when you exert yourself in the gym, consider wearing a mouthguard, Wolff says. Inexpensive "boil-and-bite" mouth guards are effective and easy to find at drugstores or sporting goods stores, he says. Or your dentist can make you a custom one, which will fit better, he says.
Hundreds of medications for allergies, depression, heart health, and blood pressure cause dry mouth. That may not sound like a major side effect, but it can wreak havoc on your teeth, since they need saliva to protect against acids that cause decay and erosion, says Edmond Hewlett, D.D.S., an American Dental Association advisor and professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry.
"When you don't have an adequate saliva supply, your teeth can undergo catastrophic damage in a matter of months,” he says.
Your fix: Chewing on sugar-free gum and sucking on sugar-free hard candy throughout the day will help stimulate saliva production, Hewlett says. Stay away from sugary and acidic foods that encourage decay and erosion, he says. Eating that stuff will exacerbate the problem.
Sure, the chest pain sucks, but did you know that acid reflux can do permanent damage to your teeth, too? The acid from your digestive system can wind up in your mouth, dissolving your enamel just like the acid from soda or sports drinks. This acid, however, can be even more potent, Hewlett says.
Your fix: If your dentist finds erosion on the teeth located at the back of your mouth, acid reflux is most likely the culprit, Hewlett says. Ask your physician how to tackle your heartburn, Hewlett says. A prescription medication may be the best solution
Brushing after eating acidic foods—like juice, fruit, sports drinks, red wine, and soda—can weaken enamel, Wolff says. That may lead to yellowing and greater odds of cracks and chips.
Your fix: Swish with water to rinse away the acid and wait 40 minutes for the calcium in your saliva to remineralize weakened areas. Then brush.