The Role of the Mouth in Fitness
Your mouth likely isn’t your top priority when you’re working out (especially if it’s leg-day). From how you protect your pearly whites on (and off) the field, to what you eat, drink or even how you breathe while exercising - here’s what you should know.
Your mouth likely isn’t your top priority when you’re working out (especially if it’s leg-day). But here’s the deal. Oral health plays a big role in your overall health, so we’re reminding you to think! about! your! mouth! From how you protect your pearly whites on (and off) the field, to what you eat, drink or even how you breathe while exercising - here’s what you should know.
Did you know that five million teeth are lost annually due to sports-related injuries, resulting in over $500 million spent to repair and replace lost teeth1? Investing in the right protection can save both your smile, and your bank account.
For high-speed or high-impact activities like bike riding, skating, football and hockey, a helmet is a must. Helmets protect more than just your head — it can prevent you from breaking or losing a tooth! Wearing helmets, even those without the additional front face guard, can reduce impact and save you from biting down hard enough to chip a tooth2.
Mouth guards form a protective layer over your teeth during contact sports. A custom-fit mouth guard from your dentist is recommended over the ready-made ones at a sporting-goods store, because it will perfectly mold to your teeth.
Sports drinks are typically acidic and high in sugar, both factors that can contribute to advanced tooth decay and erosion. During exercise, people also tend to sip more frequently, meaning the amount of time teeth are exposed increases - putting your mouth even further at risk3. Try replacing your sports drink with water (or diluting them with water to still get the benefits of the electrolytes!), or brushing your teeth 30 minutes after you drink one.
Good-for-you nutrition bars, packed with healthy ingredients like dates, nuts, raisins and other fruit, can ironically be just as harmful as sugary sports drinks. There’s still sugar present and the super sticky textures stay on teeth longer, making your mouth more susceptible to tooth decay. We’re not telling you to skip out on these bars entirely, just be sure to brush or floss after.
Fitness is more than physical, it’s about the connection between mind and body. Think about a yoga practice — balancing poses like Warrior III require deep concentration and focus. Without it, you’re at risk of falling over.
How do people maintain concentration during physical activity? One answer is actually a little embarrassing. Studies have shown that making weird faces (such as sticking your tongue out or biting down on it) reduces the tongue’s movements, making it easier for your brain to focus4. Consider this an excuse to get your 🤪 on — but we still can’t recommend grunting with every lift.
Not one for wacky faces? You might be more prone to clenching your jaw during physical activity. Clenching teeth, however, can lead to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which puts you into a flight-or-fight response. Added tension and stress on the body can contribute to jaw misalignment and airway constriction, which ultimately impedes athletic performance5.
Being more aware of your jaw placement during physical activity is one simple way to help combat this. Start by repositioning your jaw into a relaxed position. It’ll help relax the rest of your body and generate more oxygen for working muscles.
The more you move, the more oxygen your body needs to function. For most people, it’s easier to take the oxygen your body needs to sustain physical activity by open mouth breathing vs. a more controlled breath through the nose6. Doing this causes the mouth to dry and produce less saliva, which serves a protective function for teeth. Studies have shown that when the saliva’s chemical composition shifts, it produces more alkaline, which can contribute to the development of tartar or plaque on teeth7.
What do dentists recommend? Opt for nasal breathing when possible. Aside from the oral benefits, it can help you relax and assist in an efficient recovery8.
Oral health is a small fraction of your overall health — but it’s an important one. So take a moment to consider your mouth the next time you hit the gym.