The One Thing Cavities and Exercise Have in Common?

Cavities and Exercise

You wouldn’t think tooth decay share anything in common with exercise. In fact, both seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum. However, they do have one link that is surprising, to say the least. No, exercising does not directly cause cavities in your mouth. You can stop worrying now! However, a chemical called lactic acid does play a role in both. So why is this worth mentioning? Well, many of my patients have often expressed the idea that the direct contact of sugar on teeth is what creates cavities. Sugar hits the tooth and BOOM… cavities. While sugar can eventually lead to decay, it does not do it through direct exposure. So how does tooth decay develop? Read on to find out.

Lactic Acid and Exercise

If you have ever taken a biology course in school, you’re probably familiar with lactic acid’s role in exercise. When we work out, our bodies use aerobic pathways, which require oxygen, to create energy. This our body’s preferred method of generating energy and is incredibly efficient. However, if oxygen supply happens to run low, our bodies will switch to an anaerobic pathway. It is this anaerobic pathway, which produces energy without oxygen, that produces a chemical called lactate, or “lactic acid.” The lactate produced can be repurposed into glucose and used as fuel for the entire body including the muscles, heart, and brain. Lactate is also metabolized in the mitochondria and used as powerful fuel for muscle contractions during workouts. So… what does this lactic acid have to do with cavities? Well, it is actually what causes them.

The Role of Lactic Acid in Creating Cavities

Bacteria exist everywhere. We have bacteria on our skin, in our intestines, and even in our mouth. Some bacteria, like Streptococcus Mutans, break down sugars and fermentable carbohydrates from the foods we eat and make lactic acid as a byproduct. Yes, you read that correctly; this is the very same lactic acid that our muscles produce when we workout.

The bacteria, S. Mutans, then excretes this lactic acid onto the surface of our teeth, slowly breaking down the enamel into soft, decayed tissue. Initially, the acid works on breaking down enamel, the hard, outer tissue covering our teeth. This process is a slow process that often takes several weeks or months, depending on the person. Once the acid has reached the softer dentin underneath the enamel, the spread of decay progresses much more quickly.

The best time to treat the spread of caries decay is when it has first broken through the enamel. This would require simple treatment, such as a composite, or “tooth colored,” filling. Delaying treatment would allow the decay to spread deeper and may require more extensive treatment, such as root canal treatment or even a tooth extraction. 

How to Prevent Cavities

So now that we know more about how cavities are formed, what can we do to prevent them? To start off, do the obvious: brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. This advice may sound simple and easy to do, but I can tell you very few people follow it! If you are one of them, don’t feel discouraged. It is never too late to start a good habit!  

By brushing and flossing regularly, you remove food debris from your mouth and deprive bacteria like S. Mutans of their food source. It’s not the act of limiting sugar contact with teeth, but proper hygiene that really helps prevent tooth decay. I have so many patients that express frustration when they’re told they have more cavities. “But Dr. Albert,” they’ll say, “I don’t even eat any sweets!” When asked how often they brush and floss, they’re usually doing well beneath the recommended amount. Brushing and flossing everyday – along with regular visits to the dentist—will ensure that you keep your teeth healthy for a long, long time.

If you’re not completely sure how to floss properly, you can always check out our guides on oral hygiene. If you’re looking for a dental office in Richmond, TX in the Harvest Green, Pecan Grove, Long Meadows areas, our office would be happy to consult with you and help you on your way to a healthier smile. Give us a call at (832) 220-9324 or email us at