That’s not just your imagination. Doing a lot of swimming actually can take a toll on our teeth if we aren’t careful.
To most people, the word “calculus” calls forth scary flashbacks from high school math class, but in this context, it refers to a dental health condition. Prolonged exposure to the acidic chlorine ions in pool water can make a swimmer’s teeth develop yellow or brown stains, which we call swimmer’s calculus. Chlorine is excellent for keeping a public pool sanitary for everyone swimming in it, but if it isn’t monitored carefully, the water’s pH levels can become more acidic.
Our teeth are very vulnerable to erosion from acid, so even mildly acidic pool water can make it more likely that we will develop these kinds of stains. You might be able to minimize this by keeping your mouth closed in the water and drinking plenty of water to rinse any pool water off of your teeth. Regular dental appointments are also important.
If you prefer scuba diving over swimming at the pool, you will face a different set of dental health risks, including barodontalgia or “tooth squeeze.” If you’ve ever felt pressure building up in your ears when you dive to the bottom of the deep end, you’ve gotten a taste of what can happen inside of individual teeth — particularly those with cavities that haven’t been treated yet or have been treated ineffectively.
The pressure of all that water can build so much that it can actually fracture a tooth. For this reason, we strongly encourage divers to begin their diving season with a visit to the dentist so that they can get ahead of any potential problems.
Many scuba divers struggle with the supposedly one-size-fits-all mouthpieces that don’t really fit anyone very well. Most divers don’t go into the water often enough to feel like the cost of a custom-fitted mouthpiece is worth it. As dentists, we would argue that it’s worth it for anyone diving multiple times a year, because a custom-fitted mouthpiece won’t cause the problems the generic one can.
Generally, divers must clench down on the mouthpiece to keep it from falling out while diving, which can put a high level of strain on the jaws. It could even cause TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder).
If we haven’t answered all of your questions about how to look after your dental health while being an avid fan of water activities, just ask! A less obvious danger to be aware of as well is the tripping hazard of slippery areas around pools; a fall could easily cause an injury to your mouth. Take the right precautions for your teeth and enjoy all the water you want to this year!