Athletes and Oral Health

Those athletes who reach the Olympics have trained intensely to reach that level and be ranked among the best athletes in the world in their particular sport. However, although these athletes are in optimum physical shape, many are overlooking an important part of their overall health – oral health.

Recent research indicated that approximately half of the 302 2012 Olympic athletes participating in a study on oral health had tooth decay, and more than 75 percent had gingivitis, with 15 percent having signs of periodontis.

Professor Ian Needleman of the University College London Eastman Dental Institute led the study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. His research team noted that many of the men and women who competed in the 2012 Olympics had poor levels of oral health, levels that were similar to the problems seen in most disadvantaged populations.

Needleman and his team researched the impact oral health had on the quality of life and athletic training and performance of Olympic athletes. He found it rather amazing that world class athletes who spend such an enormous amount of time and energy training to become the best in the world in their athletic field ignore their oral health needs. 

Of those athletes in the study, 42 percent said they “were bothered by oral health issues”,  28 percent said oral health issues affected the quality of their lives, and 18 percent believed that poor oral health was affecting their training and/or performance in a negative way.

Oral health assessments should be part of any athlete’s usual medical care.  Needleman said, “If we are going to help them optimize their level of performance, we need to concentrate on oral health promotion and disease prevention strategies.”

The mechanisms behind the impact on the Olympic athletes’ performance is relevant to the general public, too.  People in all walks of life, just like Olympic athletes, need to follow good dental hygiene habits, which includes brushing teeth after every meal, flossing regularly and visiting a dentist twice a year for checkups and x-rays to prevent the discomfort of tooth decay, gum disease and other dental problems.