The cooling weather is now perfect for outdoor activities. We all enjoy running, biking, strength training, triathlons or sports like softball or golf. Everyone has different activities to work their minds and bodies; exercise is, of course, great for getting into shape and relieving stress.
Unfortunately, a lot of people have an unwanted side affect ….teeth clenching. Now, this might not sound like the worst problem in the world, but it can have a strong negative impact on not only our dentition but also our athletic performance level and endurance. Research has shown that during periods of physical activity clenching the jaws causes a release of the hormone Cortisol. However, Cortisol is the primary stress hormone (think “fight or flight”).
These chemicals may help in an emergency situation (like a bear jumping out in front of you), but not in endurance events. High Cortisol level limits our peripheral vision, decreases metabolism, causes fatigue, reduces muscle building and suppress the immune system. Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but this storm of hormones doesn’t exactly sound like its helping my performance. As a triathlete, I began investigating ways to reduce fatigue during training for a half iron distance race.
I came across the new Bite-Tech appliance from Under Armour (yes the same company that makes the clothing is making a dental device). This bite guard also has some other interesting properties; it also opens our airway and has been shown to decrease lactic acid levels during endurance exercise. This I combed thru the research and decided I wanted to explore it further. I was excited to be one of the first to join the list of dentists providing this service.
I was ecstatic that as a dentist I could make something that could help others reach a higher level of athletic performance. I fabricated an appliance for myself and one for a more seasoned and accomplished triathlete than myself. (in other words, his name is at the top of the list for any given race, were as mine is down the list more than a few spots) I wore it for all three portions (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run) of the Wrightsville beach “Beach to Battleship” Half Iron distance race and the White Lake half.
I found it comfortable to wear, the appliance fits securely but passively to your lower teeth. It was a thicker pad towards the back teeth and each pad is connected by a clear thin piece that fits along the lip side of your lower teeth. It doesn’t move around even when swimming. I am a firm believer that for me it helps. I realized there are times of increased effort that I was clenching hard. My cohort that also wore the appliance, reported after his first race he was in favor of wearing it, but didn’t believe he was clenching much; recently after another race, he reported he had small worn spots from clenching down hard during some unknown parts of the race.
He has a renewed confidence that the appliance is beneficial to him. So I suspect a higher degree of clenching occurs than we are aware of. As a dentist in a larger practice, I have noticed that a very large percentage of people are grinding or clenching their teeth. Most all of the people grind during their sleeping hours and are for the most part unaware they are doing it until they notice wear, broken teeth, sensitivity, recession, bulking of the bone surrounding the teeth (I will save the details for a future blog).
I believe that people grind during sleep much more than reported and that we also unknowingly clench during exercise; similarly to how you don’t know you’re snoring until someone tells you. A simple demonstration can show how the appliance works. Place and spread out your hands on your temples. Clench down a few times like you are snapping into chewing gum. You will feel the large temporalis muscle jump on the side of your head.
Now leave your hands on your temples and slide your lower teeth towards your upper front teeth. Tap them together like you are biting into pizza or biting your fingernails (I cringe even saying that, as I think of all the chipped teeth that nail-biting makes). You should notice your temporalis muscle is at rest and not jumping or firing. As you jaw is opened a small bit you joint is moved to a less favorable grinding position; as our body has a natural protective mechanism that comes into play that turns off the large powerful muscle to protect your teeth and jaws.
The bite-tech works similarly to that demonstration, your bite is at a less than favorable position which stops the excessive release of Cortisol; which should enable you to enjoy longer, harder and more competitive athletic events. You can also experiment with your ability to breathe, simply bite down on your back teeth and breath in and out, you will notice your breathing thru your teeth and your airway will feel constricted.
Now slide to the forward position and even open a bit more, that is similar to the bite with the bite-tech (actually you aren’t that far forward, but you are open a good bit) but for demonstration purposes it gives you the idea. This one seems obvious not to breath with your teeth closed while exercising, but our bodies seems hardwired to find this biting position at various times. To date we have made them for a wide range of sports, including running, biking, swimming, martial arts and even golf. If we have any interest in hearing more about the bite-tech, I would be interested in seeing if we can help.
More can be read at www.bitetech.com and the research papers can be seen there also. Give us a call at Drs. Salling and Tate, 910-256-9040 Thanks, Bryan Tate, DDS