The Crossfit Dental Patient
By Dr. Max Zaslavsky
I delved into Crossfit about 3 years ago when I had moved to Fort Lauderdale to open up my dental practice. I had always worked out, but I had heard about this “Crossfit thing,” and wanted to give it a try. Instantly, I loved the camaraderie and challenges that were presented to me within each and every workout. To a degree, I felt that the challenges and obstacles of Crossfit helped in building my dental office. Any new business, especially in these hard economic times takes some sort of intestinal fortitude. Crossfit helped me mentally deal with the in’s and out’s of air conditioners breaking, dealing with difficult patients, and yes, even taking a tooth out.
As time passed, I was not only seeing my new friends in the box, but as patients in my office as well. It was definitely a sense of accomplishment to know that the same people you workout with daily, put enough faith in you to treat them in a 2 inch by 2 inch “box” called the mouth. The more I treated my fellow athletes, the more I saw something very common amongst all of them- rampant dental decay and overall poor teeth.
What Your Mouth Says About You
A bright full smile with healthy pink gums creates that youthful appearance that exemplifies health. None of my baby boomer patients walk in asking for yellow teeth with receding gums….not even for Halloween. Your smile is the first thing anyone will see…way before your ab definition.
A healthy smile serves not only for a welcoming appearance, but also as the first area for a healthy digestive system. When you begin to chew with less and less teeth; you are relying on more pressure to the adjacent teeth to carry the workload. This can lead to even further breakage of other teeth, even if they have no cavities!
When you have missing teeth or inflamed gums, it gives an overall aged effect no matter how good your body looks. Let’s be real for a second, you have a smoking hot bod from all those WOD’s but a mouth that smells and is filled with plaque from not flossing, It’s not attractive. You have 8 pack abs, but when you smile, you look like a Jack O’ Lantern; you’re not getting lucky tonight. When patients say to me, “Oh just take it out,” rather than “I want to fix it,” it makes me cringe. You wouldn’t cut your pinky off if it had a splinter, so nor should you take your tooth out if it has a cavity. Besides, imagine doing Fran, and your denture popped out? Definitely a “no rep” there.
By coming in for your routine check-ups, your dental office can catch potential diseases before they become greater. Diabetes is something we can see in the mouth and treat before it turns into a greater complication. Certain cancers and cysts that could have become far worse than they actually did become were caught on routine checkups in my office. In my office, we have at least one cancer patient a month. Meaning, we have found that at least 12 of our patients a year have had some sort of oral cancer. It’s not a joke, and it can spread quickly to other parts of your body. Just like you workout daily or 3-4 times per week, so should you create a routine to not only treat your mouth at home, but also by seeing us at least twice per year. Prevention and maintenance will always be determinants of success.
The majority of Crossfit athletes I have seen in my practice have embarked upon a caveman or Paleo lifestyle. The Paleo Diet in and of itself is extremely healthy. In fact, if you are a person who practices the Paleo lifestyle rather than the Standard America Diet, you are going to be healthier and feel better. Furthermore I have noticed in my office that my true Paleo patients tend to have less plaque buildup and dental decay. This would correlate that since you are eating less added refined sugars and/or high fructose corn syrups you would have less chance of dental cavities and gum disease.
To briefly digress, less added sugar would also mean decreased work on the pancreas to release insulin; thereby decreasing your chances of diseases like diabetes, high triglyceride levels, and various cardiovascular diseases. Aside from smoking, diabetes is one of the primary reasons for tooth loss in the U.S.
So where are my Crossfit Patients going wrong? After all, I did say at the beginning of this article, that I saw severe dental decay throughout my Crossfit patient’s mouths.
Yes even men and women who move large sums of weights from one area to another have fear. I have worked on MMA fighters, professional boxers, and Crossfitters. The adage “the bigger they are…..” holds true even in this day and age when we are making dental treatment less invasive and painless. I had one patient say to me, “I would rather give birth,” and it was a man. I have had people who have sky dived more than 100 times, yet fear me (and for the record, I am only 5’5).
Avoidance due to dental fear pertains to anyone. It can stem from a traumatic childhood experience to the fear of the unknown. But things are better now!! In this day and age, dental practices can offer a variety of methods to alleviate dental anxiety. From playing your favorite music to the “old school” laughing gas or full on sedation, we can make your experience a comfortable one.
2. Not Flossing - Create Your Dental WOD
You know how we all want to WOD every day? You know, we want to conquer that challenge, climb that rope, snatch those 200lbs we had been tinkering with? You need to floss every day. Conquer the floss!
My fellow athletes, WE ARE NOT FLOSSING!! We need to make your dental care as much of a WOD as is Fran!
3-2-1 Go: Floss everyday at least once a day, at night before brushing. Brushing alone is not enough to maintain a young healthy smile. The majority of dental disease I see is from cavities and gum issues where food had been collected in-between the teeth and left to ferment. An even greater reason to floss is that there are links between lack of flossing and heart disease. Yes, the same plaque that is in between your teeth is the same plaque that can clog an artery and create a cardiac event. On average, people who floss have less chance of heart disease and will live 4 years longer.
The best ways to floss is to a take large enough string, about 18 inches and wrap it around your middle fingers. Create a “C” shape with your dental floss, and slide up against each tooth in a gentle pattern so as to remove any and all plaque. Patients sometimes tell me they don’t like to floss because their gums bleed. That’s the very reason why you need to floss. Bleeding gums tell us that your gums are inflamed and we need to remove the plaque that is acting like a splinter in those areas.
3. Energy Drinks
This was the biggest discovery I found with my Crossfit athlete patients. I never understood how someone who was following a Paleo lifestyle had so many dental issues until I went through their daily diet- meal by meal. The common thread was there, and that was the consumption of a superfluous amount of energy drinks.
Diet Red Bull alone has more acid content than a regular Coke or Pepsi. The other energy or powdered mixes out there, which have “monster” or an exclamation at the end of their name, are no better. I think somewhere there has been a disconnect between the Paleo diet and these energy drinks. They need to be completely avoided.
What I now see amongst energy drink users and Crossfit athletes is dental decay due to acid erosion rather than sugar. Whereas a cavity from sugar was easier to isolate, acid erosion of a tooth is circumferential. Meaning, that it isn’t in only one spot, but rather all around, making it harder isolate. That cherry or fruit flavored energy blast is not dentally sound when consumed on a daily basis. Yes, you can lose your teeth on even a diet red bull.
So where would we go from here if you already have damaged your teeth with energy drinks? What more can be done to help re-mineralize your teeth if there has been some damage. One of the things we recommend here in my office is the use of prescription strength fluoride toothpastes in conjunction with your regular hygiene routine. Meaning floss, brush with your normal toothpaste for 2 minutes and then use the prescribed paste for another 2 minutes. By using a paste with 1.1% fluoride (such as Colgate’s Prevident), you can help decrease dental sensitivity, keep large cavities at bay for a period of time until treated, or even potentially re-mineralize smaller cavities. Yes, it is possible, with proper treatment and homecare to re-mineralize small cavities and reverse the decay process.
As a dentist and as your fellow Crossfit athlete, I want to see you all be as healthy with your mouths as you are with the rest of your bodies. Small adjustments made incrementally can help change your life. It did for me when I got my first 300lb squat, my first kipping pull-up and my first rope climb (ok, I still can’t do a rope climb). I want it to feel the same sense of accomplishment for you when you leave your dentist’s office cavity and gum-disease free.
You need to keep your teeth not only to look good but to digest properly. The fewer teeth you have, the less you have to chew with, and trust me, dentures are never sexy.