Is swimming making your teeth go brown?

If you pride yourself on your nice pearly white teeth, what we’re about to tell you might come as as much of a shock as being told your wisdom teeth are coming out!

On a recent check-up at her new dentist on the Gold Coast, our very own Juliann Desjardins was surprised to learn that her favourite hobby might be having an effect on her own teeth.

It all came about the moment she sat in the chair and opened her mouth.

“Do you swim? In a pool?” asked the Dentist.

“Yes, I do! Good guess,” Jules responded enthusiastically, assuming the dentist must have noticed her swimmer’s shoulders and cossie tan. 

But what the dentist said next surprised Jules (and in turn, all of us here at oceanswims.com).

“I can tell from the little stains on your teeth, it’s from the chlorine in the pool. It’s called swimmer’s calculus,” explained the dentist. 

Having been stumped by something that as swimmers we’d never heard of, we looked into this phenomenon to find advice on how to keep calculus at bay.

What is swimmer’s calculus? 

Swimmer’s calculus is a condition that happens to our teeth when they are exposed to chlorinated water for extended periods of time.

It is defined as a hard, brown tartar deposit that usually appears on the front teeth of swimmers. 

Simply put, chlorine stains your teeth, making them yellow or brown. 

This condition usually occurs when a swimmer spends more than six hours a week in a chlorinated swimming pool swimming or playing other water sports, but can occur in as less than three hours.

Symptoms of swimmer’s calculus

Example of a black-line stain caused by calculus

The pool water contains chlorine and other chemicals that cause our salivary proteins to break down quickly, in turn causing deposits on our teeth.

Symptoms of swimmer’s calculus include: 

  • Discoloured teeth 
  • The edges of your front teeth may look transparent 
  • In the later stages, you may feel extreme teeth sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks. 
  • If these deposits are not removed they can attract bacteria, which can develop into cavities and periodontal disease which increases your risk of bone, gum and tooth loss and an increased risk of certain heart and lung problems associated with these diagnoses. 

How to prevent swimmer’s calculus

Swimmer’s calculus can be a very unappealing look for many because nobody wants discoloured brown or yellow teeth.

It can also be a quite annoying side effect for those that enjoy regular swimming, but there is no need to worry, you’re not stuck with discoloured teeth for the rest of your swimming life, there are ways to prevent swimmer’s calculus including:

1. Have fresh water close by

Swallowing pool water isn’t good for anyone but sometimes it’s just inevitable when you’re taking a breath and particularly when you’re passing another swimmer.

We recommend when going for a swim to take a bottle of fresh water with you not only to stay hydrated while swimming but to also rinse your mouth out of any chlorine deposits that may have built up during your swim.

It’s easy to do, just grab a swig of water and swish it around, then spit it out to remove any residual chlorine (not in the pool, of course).

In fact, it would be beneficial to take a shower to remove any excess chlorine from your body. 

2. Regular dental checkups

If you are an avid swimmer and regularly hit the pool it is recommended to get regular check-ups to help prevent and treat ‘Swimmers Calculus’.

By seeing your dentist more regularly they will be able to give your teeth a deep clean and get rid of all those harmful chlorine deposits that discolour our teeth.

3. Keep your mouth closed

We understand that everyone tries to keep their mouth closed while swimming but sometimes chlorinated water just slips in when you breathe or get splashed by another swimmer.

But if you pay extra attention to keeping your mouth closed while swimming it will help prevent those harmful chlorine chemicals from entering your mouth and coming into contact with your teeth and gums. 

4. Practice good oral hygiene

By practising good oral hygiene you have a greater chance of withstanding the effects of swimmer’s calculus. This can include:

  • Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, not forgetting your tongue
  • Don’t brush your teeth directly after a swim because the enamel may be softened and this can cause more damage to your teeth. Instead, just rinse your mouth with regular plain water or a fluoride mouthwash to bring the pH in your mouth back to neutral
  • Consider using a toothpaste that helps replenish natural calcium to strengthen your tooth enamel. 

Whether you think swimmer’s calculus is something to be embarrassed about or more like a badge of honour for getting your laps in, we find it pretty interesting that your dentist can know if you’re a swimmer or not. 

If we’ve scared you into worrying about swimmer’s calculus, perhaps this is just one more reason to opt for the ocean instead of a pool for your next swim.

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