Is Swimming Harmful to Your Patients' Teeth?

By Julia Chambers

It’s no mystery that regular physical activity is one of the best ways to keep the human body healthy.

Exercise improves energy levels, increases strength, improves immune function, clears the mind, and generally improves overall well-being. Few activities can positively impact our quality of life as much as physical exercise does.

High Ranks for Swimming as Exercise

While exercise options abound, swimming remains one of the most popular choices. Swimming is low impact, beneficial to the heart, joint-friendly, and allows the body to move and stretch fluidly with less strain than other activities.

Healthline describes swimming as the easiest way to get a full-body workout. It’s even considered more effective than running and weight training. Characterizing it as the perfect workout, Harvard Health ranks swimming as #1 on their list of best exercises.

Championed by medical professionals and leading health authorities, it’s no wonder that swimming is so popular.

While swimming prevails as a favorite activity for the young and old, competitive and recreational swimmers face potential and quite severe oral health risks to be aware of.

Chlorinated Waters

Humans have enjoyed water activities for generations. Recreational water regulations have helped protect us from waterborne diseases and contaminants of many kinds. However, a silent danger may be lurking in swimming pools.

Studies have connected chlorine exposure to a variety of health issues, from skin conditions to asthma and even to cancer. Dental health is no exception.

A peculiar condition, known as swimmer’s mouth or swimmer’s erosion has been directly connected to daily or frequent exposure to chlorinated water. When swimmers are exposed to improperly maintained chlorinated pools, the risk of severe dental damage rises exponentially.

Stains on the teeth, cold sensitivity, excess formation of calculus, increased dental pain, and even dental erosion can manifest in less than a month of exposure.

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In one astonishing case study, a woman experienced dramatic and almost complete destruction of her dental enamel from acid erosion in just two weeks of daily swimming in an improperly chlorinated swimming pool while on a trip to Cuba.

It might be easy to dismiss an extreme case such as this as an unfortunate anomaly. However, it’s not the first.

Dangerous Waters

In 1982, two women in Virginia, with the same dentist and no history of unusual exposures to acids, presented with general dental enamel erosion that was clinically consistent with acid exposure. After discovering that both women regularly trained in the same private club pool, an investigation found that many other club members were also suffering from dental symptoms consistent with acid exposure. A water sample from the swimming pool revealed a highly acidic pH of 2.7, a concentration around 100,000 times recommended levels for swimming pools.

The acidity of swimming pool water is an obvious cause for concern, but it’s not the only contributing factor in pool water related dental damage. A study in 2013 found dental erosion in more than 10% of recreational swimmers and 26% of adolescent competitive swimmers of a local swimming club. Unlike other case reports, the pH of this pool’s water was neutral. However, according to the findings, “…factors that increase the risk of dental erosion include the duration of swimming and the amount of training. An increased risk of erosion may be related to under saturation of pool water with hydroxyapatite components.”

Chlorine Exposure and Xerostomia

Patterns have emerged between the frequency of a patient’s swimming pool exposure, particularly when competitively training, and other dental issues.

Another study focused on the adverse effects of chlorinated water exposure on saliva production in a group of collegiate swimmers. It showed that the participating university students were experiencing “a significant alteration of their salivary parameters, such as salivary flow rate and concentration of Ca, P and F.”

The study further suggested that when competitive swimmers participate in regular swimming, they are still at risk for enamel dissolution from frequent chlorine exposure — even when utilizing properly maintained chlorinated swimming-pools for their training.

A lack of salivary flow, or Xerostomia (dry mouth), is known to increase a patient’s chances for dental decay and oral infections. It can also cause difficulties in eating, speaking, and swallowing, resulting in a direct impact on a person’s quality of life.

A Call for Increased Monitoring

Six-month intervals are the industry standard for dental prophylaxis, but patients who are regular swimmers may require further attention. More frequent monitoring and a prevention plan may be necessary to help mitigate dental damage and preserve oral health. And, dependent upon a patient’s health profile, they may also benefit from a change in physical activity to reduce damaging exposure. Thankfully, there are many exercise options to choose from.


Author: Julia M. Chambers has more than 25 years of experience as a freelance writer, content creator, and editor. Her interests include design, health, education, and social media. Her competitive writing experience and educational background in psychology, English composition, and special education have provided her a solid framework for exploring diverse and relevant topics.

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