Poor Oral Health And Athletic Performance

It’s hardly likely that the last time you exercised, you thought about your mouth. More specifically, the health of your mouth, teeth and gums. Why would you? However, it turns out your oral health might be impacting on your performance. In fact, research is continuing to show that poor oral health is negatively impacting on athletes.

How Do We Know About This?

Research conducted by University College London asked 302 athletes during the Olympics in London 2012 about their oral health. Of these, 55% had cavities, 41% irreparable. Another 75% had gingivitis (early stage gum disease) and 15% had peridontis which is irreversible. Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine with quite surprising results, 20% of the athletes said oral health was affecting their quality of life and 18% believed their oral health was affecting their training or performance levels. Actually 46.5% of the athletes had not been to the dentist for over a year and 8.7% had never been. Now obviously participants were from a wide variety of countries where access to health services may be varied and perhaps in some areas, patchy. However, all participants were the top athletes in their countries at the top of their game. In previous studies, results were similar- athletes from a variety of countries were found to have strikingly poor oral health, at odds with their often extremely well maintained bodies, in comparison to other people of their age.

The Problems and the Causes

No doubt poor oral health generally causes pain. We’ve all experienced toothache at some point. It usually begins as a low throbbing pain and becomes more intense, which would make anyone feel off their game. It could lead to lack of sleep, earache and headaches. Equally athletes are not always as able to use drugs to treat illnesses, aches and pains as the average person due to doping regulations, so this may impact on the way they feel. The athletes may well feel self-conscious too; so much of the emphasis at the Olympics games and across sports is people looking good. Not feeling confident to smile is therefore going to have an impact on the way they can present themselves. Athletes also tend to have a lower immunity due to frequent and intensive training, so are perhaps more prone to inflammation and other issues.

Perhaps the biggest cause may be the sheer quantity of carbohydrates athletes eat within their diet to give them the additional energy they need to train intensively and compete. Many of these are starchy and stick to teeth, later breaking down and becoming sugars which oral bacteria feed on.

Possible Solutions?

Medical experts have said that effective oral hygiene routines could solve many emerging problems that athletes are having including simple brushing and flossing. If more serious problems do exist, dealing with them will save more serious problems and tooth removal later. There are deeper questions about training regimes not looking after the entire body and leaving oral health out. So, whether you are an Olympian or casual jogger, it is worth spending a few minutes twice a day making sure your oral health doesn’t let you down in the future.


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