06/06/2014 05:12 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2014

Great Legs, Gross Teeth: Endurance Runners and Tooth Decay

Runners are sexy people. They have a contagious energy, an unusually positive outlook on life, and let's face it -- they look good in their spandex shorts. But, according to dentists and health professionals, runners and other endurance athletes are more prone to tooth decay and dental problems than the rest of the population. Here's what you need to know about runners and tooth decay.

Sports Drinks
Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade and Accelerade contain lots of sugar. Simple sugars are used to fuel our muscles during races and training. Sugars are absorbed quickly and preserve muscle glycogen to extend athletic endurance and help us run farther. However, the sugars that help our tired muscles are hurting our teeth.

They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth. -- Paul Piccininni, Dental Director for the International Olympic Committee

To make matters worse, most sports drinks contain phosphoric or citric acid which erode tooth enamel. The compromised tooth then becomes more susceptible to bacterial build-up fueled by the sugary liquid. Bacterial proliferation leads to plaque, cavities, gingivitis, and a host of other dental problems.

Dry Mouth
Runners are heavy breathers. If you've ever run a race, you're familiar with the freight train sound of runners gasping for oxygen. All that rapid breathing dries out the mouth, reduces saliva flow, and gives bacteria a great place to live. And that sports drink you sip as directed, delivers just enough sugar to keep things moving in terms of bacteria production.

How Runners Can Prevent Tooth Decay
So what can you do? You work hard to keep your body in peak physical condition, you eat healthy foods, and you fuel during your races as directed by the experts. Here's how to keep your teeth as healthy as the rest of your body and have a winning smile:

  1. Rinse your mouth with water after consuming gels, bars, or sports drinks. Often times the aid stations will have a choice of sport drink or water. Take one of each and 'rinse and spit' with water.
  2. Chew gum when you can to increase salivary flow and neutralize the bacteria in your mouth. The gum should contain xylitol.
  3. Brush and floss regularly.
  4. Ask your dentist about sealants and fluoride treatments. Let them know you're an endurance athlete and discuss ways to prevent tooth decay.