Dental health is something we don’t think about until it starts hurting. Unfortunately, your mouth can be an inconveniently painful place to have problems. If you’re an athlete, that means you need to take care of your teeth even more than the average person. You wouldn’t expect a ball or racket to give you cavities. But for many athletes, the things they do to excel at their sport can actually put them at risk for tooth decay and gum disease. That’s because so many sports require you to constantly gnash your molars together while dribbling or chomping on a mouth guard. The result? A lot of busted smiles on our favorite players and pros. To keep your smile intact and healthy throughout your athletic career, we’ve compiled the ABCs of dental care for athletes:
A is for awareness
Athletes, especially young ones, may not even know that they have dental issues. That’s why it’s so important for them to be aware of their oral health. By taking care of your mouth, you’ll be able to keep your teeth for a lifetime. It’s also important to recognize that not all dental problems are created equal. Knowing which issues you are most susceptible to will let you better prepare for them. Some sports are obviously more likely to cause oral issues than others. These include anyone who plays contact sports like football and hockey, contact sports where saliva is more likely to be swallowed (like basketball, baseball, and soccer), sports that require a lot of grinding of the teeth (like tennis, boxing, and skateboarding), and sports that require frequent mouth-opening (like cheerleading).
B is for brushing
Brushing your teeth is the most basic part of any dental care routine — but, unfortunately, it’s also the one that many people neglect. Most people only brush their teeth visible when they open their mouths. But it’s crucial to also brush the surfaces of your molars (the back teeth) and the insides of your gums. More than half of all Americans have some level of gum disease, and it’s a serious health issue. Left untreated, it can cause tooth loss and increase your risk of other health issues, like heart disease and diabetes. That’s why brushing daily with fluoride toothpaste is so important. And, if you play a high-contact sport, it may not be enough to just do this once a day. You should brush after every practice or game, too, to remove any bacteria that could be causing damage.
C is for flossing
While flossing is often neglected, it’s just as important as brushing. In fact, because it reaches places that brushing can’t, flossing is the only way to truly remove the bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease. For many people, simply using the standard “elbow method” isn’t enough. You can get better results by changing which parts of your mouth you focus on. In order for flossing to be most effective, you should focus on the areas around your teeth and between them where food particles get stuck. You should also be sure to use soft, gentle dental floss to avoid causing damage to your gums.
D is for diet
Eating a healthy diet is important for everyone, but it’s especially important if you play sports. During strenuous exercise, your body breaks down muscle tissue for fuel. It’s also the best way to recover from strenuous exercise because it helps you to rebuild the muscle tissue that you’ve broken down. But this process isn’t without its drawbacks. When your body breaks down muscle tissue, it creates substances called free radicals as a byproduct. These free radicals are also a major cause of aging, and they can also damage your teeth. So, it’s crucial to eat foods that will help reduce the number of free radicals in your body. That means eating lots of antioxidant-rich foods, like blueberries and oranges.
E is for evaluation and treatment
Even if you’re doing everything right, you might still have some dental issues. That’s why it’s crucial to visit your dentist for an evaluation every six months or so if you’re an athlete. Dentists often have specialized training that can help them diagnose dental problems early — which is the key to preventing serious issues. And they can also suggest ways to better protect your teeth while playing. Your dentist may recommend that you change your diet, add certain supplements (like fluoride), or use special cleansing or anti-aging products. He or she can also help you find a mouthguard that will protect your teeth while playing.
F is for fluoride
As we mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to avoid dental problems and keep your teeth healthy — but there are also ways to reverse the damage that’s been done. One of the best damage control methods is using fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that can be found naturally in water, soil, and even food — so it’s pretty easy for your body to absorb and use. And that makes it a great tool for strengthening tooth enamel. Fluoride is also the key ingredient in most mouthwashes and toothpaste. And, if you play a contact sport, your dentist may even prescribe a fluoride rinse to keep your gums from receding. It’s especially important to use these products if you grind your teeth or suffer from mouth sores.
G is for gum care
While brushing and flossing are crucial to maintaining a healthy smile, we often overlook the health of our gums. But they’re actually a window into your overall oral health. Just like your skin, your gums are a barrier between your mouth and the rest of your body. So it’s crucial to take care of them. Gum disease can be extremely painful and even lead to tooth loss if left untreated. And it’s often a result of neglecting other aspects of dental care, like brushing and flossing. While those things are crucial, they’re also pretty routine. That means they’re easy to neglect, especially when you’re focused on other parts of your athletic training or competing.
Dental health is a crucial part of anyone’s overall health. And, as an athlete, it’s even more important to take care of your teeth. That means brushing, flossing, and using fluoride, as well as making sure you get your teeth cleaned and inspected by a dentist. It’s also important to know which sports are most likely to cause oral issues. This will help you better prepare for them and protect your teeth from problems like tooth decay and gum disease.