The association between swimming pools and tooth sensitivity went unnoticed for decades. John Snow began using chlorine to purify water following the cholera epidemic of 1854, and the number of swimming pools containing chlorine has grown to millions in the United States alone. But it wasn't until the winter of 1982 that the scientific world was alerted to the dental erosive effects of swimming pool chlorination through a study in the "Journal of the New Jersey Dental Association."
Water Chlorination Chemistry
Most times, it's the chlorine gas used by large swimming pools that causes tooth sensitivity. Once introduced into the swimming pool water, chlorine gas changes into chloric acid, which sanitizes the pool but forms hydrochloric acid, which can contribute to sensitive teeth. Free chlorine is usually added to swimming pool water to achieve a delicate balance between chlorine levels and the acidity of the pool. Things can go wrong if not properly managed, and that can cause your teeth to hurt.
Dental Erosion Common
Dental erosion caused by chlorine is quite common. In April 1986, the "American Journal of Epidemiology" reported that 39 percent of members in a Virginian swimming club suffered from dental erosion. Swimmers also suffered rapid dental erosion and tooth sensitivity after swimming in pools with high chlorine content for just three to four weeks as reported by the "American Journal of Dentistry" and by the "Journal of the Canadian Dental Association."
Erosion Risk Factors
Though posing greater risk of dental erosion because of the production of hydrochloric acid, gas chlorination is economically advantageous for large pools and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Severe dental erosion reported in literature often resulted from prolonged tooth contact with gas-chlorinated pool water. Frequency of swimming was also important, with higher prevalence reported among competitive swimmers and those who swam several times a week. The risk to less-frequent or occasional swimmers appears to be negligible.
Risk Reduction Measures
Reducing the risk of your teeth hurting after swimming requires help from everyone. By simply closing your mouth as much as you can while swimming, you reduce exposure of your teeth to harmful acids. You need to be conscious of the chlorine level of your pool and to ask questions when in doubt. For example, a heavy chlorine smell means chlorine levels might be high and your teeth could hurt. Buying strips to check the level of acidity of the pool also can go a long way to protect your teeth.
Not Too bad
If you are a frequent swimmer, take additional measures like more frequent dental visits to place a protective fluoride coating over your teeth. Surprisingly, a Dutch study reported very low dental erosion even with relatively acidic pools. On a positive note, swimming pools are expected to perform daily checks on the acidity of their pools.
- Clinical Practice: Rapid and Severe Tooth Erosion from Swimming in an Improperly Chlorinated Pool: Case Report
- BioMedSearch: Is Dutch Swimming Pool Water Erosive?
- Swimming Pool News: Effect of Reduced Chlorine Concentrations on DPH Formation in Warm Water Pool at Gladsaxe Sport Centre, Denmark
- PubMed: Prevalence of Dental Erosion in Adolescent Competitive Swimmers Exposed to Gas-Chlorinated Swimming Pool Water
- Coaching Science Abstracts: Chlorine Toxicity: A Matter That Should Be of Concern to All Swimmers, Coaches and Parents