How Can Exercise Improve Oral Health?

Workout oral health exercise

By Lucy Wyndham

Exercise has so many documented benefits, including its ability to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer – but research indicates it can also boost oral health. One study published in the Journal of Dentistry showed that regular physical activity can boost periodontal health. To be more precise, people who exercised regularly had a 54% lower likelihood of developing periodontitis compared to those who led sedentary lives. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey additionally revealed that people who exercised three times a week or less could also reap benefits, which means they have a 33% lower likelihood of developing periodontitis.

BMI and Oral Health

There is a vital link between people’s Body Mass Index (BMI) and their dental health. One study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who maintain a normal weight and get the recommended amount of exercise had a 40% lower likelihood of having periodontitis. Other health-enhancing behaviors include consuming a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet, which is low in refined sugars and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.

Getting Started

The recommended amount of exercise to boost oral health varies according to age. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends around 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise. Strength training is also key at least twice a week for major muscle groups. People who are starting should do so slowly, increasing workout times and intensities as they progress. Those who lift weights should do so using a trainer-approved workout, using a massaging foam roller to soothe pain. A little pain is to be expected when a person commences weights training in particular, owing to the build-up of lactic acid. Personal pain relief rollers can help, as can stretching and warming up well prior to workouts. 

It Works the Other Way Around Too

We know that exercise can benefit oral health but it works the other way around too. That is, taking care of your teeth can help protect your heart and, therefore, your ability to stay fit and active. A recent study by the European Society of Cardiology found that brushing teeth frequently is linked to a lower risk of atrial fibrillation and heart failure. One possible reason, scientists postulated, is that frequent brushing reduces the amount of bacteria living in the pockets between teeth and gums, thereby keeping the bacteria away from the bloodstream.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Despite the benefits that exercise can have for oral health, those who train intensively (such as pro or semi-pro athletes) should take note of a Scandinavian study showing that heavy training can contribute to oral health issues, including cavities owing to exercise-induced enamel erosion. Some of the main causes of enamel weakness are drinking acidy sports drinks and breathing with the mouth open during exercise. Athletes can counteract these effects by opting for a water-electrolyte solution, and by aiming to breathe with their mouth closed. 

Exercise as a whole is conducive to better oral health – particularly gum health. However, when carried out intensively, it can erode enamel. Rather than give up on exercise, athletes simply need to take care to avoid acidic drinks and to breathe through their nose. Breathing with an open mouth can dry out saliva, thereby leaving the enamel exposed to harmful bacteria.

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