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Researchers see a connection between exercise and dental problems

A new study suggests you can have nice teeth or nice legs, but you can't have both.

During the 2012 Summer Olympics, dentists examined 278 athletes and found that most had "poor oral health," including high levels of tooth decay and gum disease, The New York Times reports. Researchers at Germany's University Hospital Heidelberg decided to do more testing on the link between exercise and oral health, and recruited 35 competitive triathletes and 35 non-athletes who matched up by age and gender. All of the participants went to a dental lab and underwent exams, including saliva collection, and were also asked about their diets, oral hygiene, and exercise routines.

Researchers compared the saliva and teeth of the two groups, and found that the athletes had more erosion of the tooth enamel than the control group, and also had more cavities, with the risk going up the longer they exercised. After studying the saliva of the athletes as they worked out, researchers found that their mouths became drier, even if they drank water during exercising, and the chemical composition in the saliva became more alkaline. That excess alkalinity might contribute to the development of tartar.

Because it was a short, small study, researchers still have a way to go before being able to link hardcore exercise with bad teeth. "All we can say is that prolonged endurance training might be a risk factor for oral health," says Dr. Cornelia Frese, senior dentist at University Hospital Heidelberg and the study's lead author. The study was published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.