Dentistry and Cycling

What does dentistry have to do with cycling? For some, maybe nothing. For me, everything!

My journey essentially began a few years ago with a trip to the dentist. I’m convinced that God led me there.

Have your ever heard the story/joke about the very religious man who once was caught in rising floodwaters? He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in, and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God, and I’m sure he will save me.”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in, and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God, and I’m sure he will save me.”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder, and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God, and I’m sure he will save me.”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise until soon they reached above the roof, and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven, he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat, and a helicopter. But you never got in.”  Source: unknown.

I think that’s how it was with my dental health. I had a very negative experience with a dentist as a child, and I could never go back – for forty plus years. I knew I should see a dentist but couldn’t go. I knew I had cavities, but couldn’t go. I knew I had rampant periodontitis, but I couldn’t go. I knew I had loose teeth, but couldn’t go. I could deal with my teeth myself, and God would keep me healthy. I had pain and other issues over the years that would come and go. When the problems resolved on their own, I decided I didn’t need treatment. My friends referred me to their dentists, and my husband tried to introduce me to his (and my daughter’s). I couldn’t go. I even tossed Christmas cards into the trash that were from “the dentist” so I wouldn’t have to know anything about him.  I didn’t go until my dog accidentally head butted me and knocked a tooth nearly out of my mouth. I think that was God’s way of telling me “See, my child, I sent you a dentist. Thankfully, you finally accepted!” I was led to the kindest, most professional and to me, most talented person who would end up turning my life around.

I’ve learned recently from my friends and pastoral leaders at St. John’s Lutheran that we have Kairos moments (times that God is at work in us) throughout our life’s journey. They are opportunities to think about what God is saying to us and then decide what we are going to do about them – how are we going to move forward?

In this case, I decided He wanted me to reclaim the health and fitness levels of my 25-year-old self and then start to share stories so others might benefit as well. For people to be interested in your stories, you have to do something interesting – like ride across America on your bike. So here I am.

It turns out that cycling is linked more to dentistry than I ever imagined. If left unchecked, prolonged bacterial build up in your mouth will negatively impact how your whole body functions and performs. Advanced dental erosion has been implicated in many diseases, such as osteoporosis, pneumonia, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Long, hard training for days, weeks and years can leave your immune system stressed. Add to this an increased bacterial load in the mouth and your immune system struggles to keep up with demand.

There are two big reasons why endurance athletes are at increased risk for dental erosion: consuming sugary sports drinks and foods, and heavy mouth breathing. Frequent small sips of sports drink or other sugars while training spares muscle glycogen, but negatively impacts your teeth.  Luckily, I don’t usually consume sports drinks – never have. Sugar consumption increases acid producing bacteria that begins the cascade of potential problems.  Most sports drinks also contain phosphoric or citric acid which further erodes tooth enamel. Heavy mouth breathing (now that’s me) during endurance training leads to dry mouth that reduces saliva flow giving bacteria a bigger opportunity to grow and thrive. Dry mouth combined with sugary sports nutrition exacerbates the potential harm.

So, don’t follow my path on this one. I encourage you to take care of your teeth. You will improve your training, health, and performance. And be mindful of your Kairos moments. What is God saying to you? And what are you going to do about it?

Ride on!


*photo credit: unknown

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