When you think of summer safety tips, the first things that comes to is properly applying sunscreen, remembering to douse yourself in bug spray, or enforcing water safety and keeping a close eye on little ones at the pool. And, as you can imagine, dental injuries also spike in the summer due to increased participation in summer sports and generally being more active then we were during the cold winter months!
From knocked out teeth due to flying Frisbees (or plaque buildup thanks to an increase in snow cone eating), it’s important to stay on top of your oral health in the summer.
Among other things, did you know that time spent in the pool this summer could adversely affect your teeth? The good news is that a little knowledge will go a long way. Let’s dive in!
Really, the pool?
Sure, you’ve had heard the warnings that if you swim too much your hair will turn green. And while not incredibly common, chlorine can build up on the hair, and it can appear to change colors.
Your teeth can also become discolored due chlorine and other chemicals in the pool. Also known as swimmer’s calculus, this condition can occur in anyone who swims frequently.
For these and many other reasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates chlorine levels in public pools. Since public pools must abide by these regulations and use higher levels of chlorine than a typical backyard pool (due to the number of swimmers present at one time), adverse effects are most common in people who swim in municipal or other public pools.
Swimming pools need to be kept at a pH level of about 7.5. If that level increases to more than 7.8, the water is in an “alkaline state.” Studies show that when children and adults swam for more than six hours each week in an alkaline pool, they were at a higher risk for developing stained teeth or discolored hair. Poor pH balance in a pool can also cause the enamel of teeth to soften, making teeth more susceptible to damage and decay, as well as more sensitive in general (so much for those snow cones).
To really understand how this happens—and how to protect yourself—it’s important to understand the importance of enamel. The enamel on your teeth is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance in your body. It covers the outer layer of each tooth and is the most visible part of the tooth. And since enamel doesn’t contain any living cells, it cannot regenerate. That means that once your enamel is destroyed, it’s gone forever. Enamel loss can appear in various ways, including discoloration, sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks, and teeth that more easily chip or crack.
As soon as you notice any of the above symptoms or otherwise suspect that you are suffering from enamel loss, tell your dentist so you can address the issue right away before it progresses.
How to protect your teeth at the pool
The best way to prevent tooth damage is to leave your mouth closed while you are in the pool. While completely avoiding getting water in your mouth is next to impossible, it is important not to welcome it in. While spitting water through your teeth to imitate a fountain may look funny, it could be doing significant damage to your teeth.
For those of you with kids—particularly small children—it is important to remind them not to drink the pool water. Yes, drinking pool water is disgusting to think about, but in the mind of a child they are not always thinking about sunscreen runoff, chemicals and other fluids that may be lingering in the water.
After getting out of the pool, take the time to brush and floss your teeth. Just like you brush after a sugary treat to get the bad bacteria off, brushing will remove the chlorine. Don’t forget to floss as well! A good oral health routine is more than half the battle here!
Finally, before entering a pool, look at the condition of the tile, ladders and plaster. If the pool’s infrastructure is degrading, it is most likely due to lackluster pH conditions of the water. If the chlorine and other chemicals can do that much damage to a ladder, just think of what it can do to your teeth! Many pools publicly post the pH levels and when they were last checked. Make sure to see those out or ask if they are easily available.
How to clean chlorine stains on teeth
If you are concerned that your or your children’s teeth might be stained due to chlorine from the pool, the first thing to do is call your dentist for a professional cleaning. If you are a frequent swimmer—such as on a swim team—it might be necessary to commit to more than biannual cleanings. It’s always important to discuss more frequent cleanings with your dentist as well.
More dental issues in the summer
We would be remiss if we didn’t also highlight other dental issues that are more likely to occur in the summer.
First, school is out and your day-to-day schedule might be more lax. And while this is the perfect way to enjoy a lazy summer, it is also important that your oral health routine doesn’t suffer. Even if your family is up late at night, make sure you don’t skip your nighttime brushing and flossing. This is especially important in the summer when we tend to eat more sweets (we can’t blame you for the extra ice cream).
If you have kids, especially active kids who might be in summer sports like baseball, it is possible they could suffer from a knocked out tooth. If this happens, it’s important not to panic. First, locate the tooth and gently rinse it in water. If possible, put the tooth back in the socket. And if that isn’t an option, keep the tooth moist at all times with milk or saliva. Finally, it is important to call your dentist right away. If they can see you in under an hour, it’s more likely they will be able to save the tooth.
Our final summer dental tip is not to forget to make those back–to–school appointments. The summer will be over before you know it, and we want to make sure we are able to see you and your family in time for school to start again.