Now here’s a question you’ve perhaps never asked yourself before. Can swimming regularly in a chlorinated pool damage your teeth? Surprisingly, it can. The trick is understanding how and why it can happen, and what you can do to minimize or eliminate the damage. And, that’s where we come in! Let’s learn how this healthy form of exercise can contribute to staining, and even eroding, your tooth enamel – yikes!
What’s in the water that’s bad for teeth?
Well, there are two concerns, actually. No one wants to be swimming in algae and bacteria, so chlorine is added to the pool to manage that situation. This is a good thing. But in order to keep things in check pH has to be monitored.
We’ve written about pH before, and it can be a confusing subject, but if you’re familiar with the concept of how acidic beverages can erode tooth enamel, the same principal applies to pool water – a pool with too low a pH means the water is technically acidic, which can erode tooth enamel. And, if you have kids on the swim team putting in more than six hours a week in a pool with a pH that isn’t being monitored properly, that sort of damage can happen fast. This is of particular concern in pools that are “gas chlorinated.” One study showed severe sensitivity and enamel loss in a man swimming in a high pH pool in just 27 days!
Aside from enamel loss, which is only a concern in improperly monitored pools (like the one in your backyard, perhaps?), tooth discoloration is a much more common ailment. Here, the offender is how chlorine interacts with proteins in our saliva. It’s pretty fascinating reading, if you’d like to learn more, but in a nutshell this chemical reaction results in what’s known as “swimmers calculus.”
Should I pull my kids from swim team?
No. If you’re kids are swimming in a properly monitored public pool, the risk of an imbalance in pH causing severe enamel erosion is low. However, since you’re not testing the pool yourself, it might not be a bad idea to ask the pool’s management team how often it is tested. In fact, some pools post readings publicly so residents can see they’re handling the pool professionally. You may even suggest this if your pool isn’t already doing so.
And with regard to staining, the solution there may be as simple as visiting the dentist prior to swim season and having a fluoride treatment applied to your child’s teeth.
What to do if you OWN a pool?
So far we’ve talked mostly about kids who might be on the swim team. But what if your kids are logging hours in their own backyard pool for more than six hours a week? The only way to keep these threats at bay is to keep a backyard pool as maintained as a professional pool. Test kits are available in a range of styles and costs, and with their own recommendations as to how often pool water needs to be tested. The key is to follow those instructions and do the test. Or better yet, hire a professional to maintain your pool. Again, staining is a preventative pursuit you can plan out with your dentist.
Swimming should always be a fun and engaging activity, good for body and soul. So, do it right, and have fun!