When an athlete is training for an event such as the Olympics, their oral health is never considered in their routine. However, a new study found that an athlete’s performance can be impacted by poor oral health. In the study led by Professor Ian Needleman of the University College London Eastman Dental Institute, he and his team recruited 302 athletes that competed in the 2012 Olympics to administer oral health check-ups and get personal assessments of the impact of their oral health on their athletic training and performance. The results were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Most of the athletes that participated in the study were from Africa, the Americas, and Europe. These athletes represented 25 different sports with the biggest percentages coming from track and field (34.9%), boxing (14%), and hockey (11.4%). Among these athletes, 55% of them were found to have dental carries, or tooth decay, and in 41% of this group, the tooth decay was reversible. The researchers also discovered that 75% of the athletes had gingivitis with 15% showing signs of the gum infection periodontis which is irreversible.
According to Professor Needleman, “Oral health is important for wellbeing and successful elite sporting performance. It is amazing that many professional athletes – people who dedicate a huge amount of time and energy to honing their physical abilities – do not have sufficient support for their oral health needs, even though this negatively impacts on their training and performance.”
Of the Olympic athletes who participated in the study, about half of them had not visited the dentist in the previous year while 8.7% had never visited a dentist. Over 40% of the athletes claimed to be “bothered by oral health issues” with 28% saying it affected their quality of life and 18% believing that it negatively impacted their training or performance. Because of this, Professor Needleman believes that oral health care should be a regular part of an athlete’s regimen, “If we are going to help them optimize their level of performance, we need to concentrate on oral health promotion and disease prevention strategies to facilitate the health and wellbeing of all our elite athletes.”
The researchers believe that pain and inflammation from oral disease may be the link between oral health, wellbeing, and performance. Previous studies have shown that poor oral health in athletes could be a result of high carbohydrate intake and intensive training which can affect immune function. According to Professor Needleman, their discoveries linking oral health to performance are relevant to the entire population, “infection in the mouth, for instance from periodontal disease, increases the levels of inflammation in the rest of the body and this can impair performance as well as increase the risk of injury.”
Most of the oral health conditions of the athletes can be prevented with regular dental care and good oral hygiene. Whether you are training for en event such as the Olympics or working out to stay in shape, maintaining good oral health could improve your performance. Contact us if you need to set up a dental appointment to keep your mouth healthy and your athletic goals on track.