Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

Study examines oral health behaviours in elite athletes

By Dental Tribune UK
August 30, 2019

LONDON, UK: Various studies have found that poor oral health may impair training and athletic performance. A recent study has examined oral health behaviours and risks in athletes and the potential for oral health intervention. The findings showed that the athletes had considerably high rates of oral disease regardless of healthy brushing habits. This disparity might be explained by their heavy consumption of sports drinks. However, the athletes showed great interest in changing their oral hygiene habits and were quite prepared to improve their oral health.

In the cross-sectional study conducted by University College London (UCL), the researchers surveyed 352 Olympic and professional athletes. All of the participants had undergone oral health screenings, and 344 athletes had also completed a questionnaire. The researchers assessed oral health conditions such as dental caries, gingival health and tooth erosion. They also considered self-reported oral hygiene habits.

Nearly the entire study population (94%) reported brushing their teeth twice daily, while 44% flossed their teeth on a regular basis. With regard to the oral health risks, the data revealed that approximately half of the athletes had untreated dental caries. Moreover, an overwhelming majority showed the first signs of gingivitis, and almost a third of the athletes admitted that poor oral health affected their training and athletic performance.

A vast majority of the athletes (87%) were found to regularly consume sports drinks, while 59% often used energy bars and 70% ate energy gels containing excessive amounts of sugar in order to boost their endurance.

“We found that a majority of the athletes in our survey already have good oral health-related habits in as much as they brush their teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly, don’t smoke and have a healthy general diet,” said co-author of the study Dr Julie Gallagher, a researcher in the Centre for Oral Health and Performance at UCL Eastman Dental Institute, in an article published on the university’s website. “However, they use sports drinks, energy gels and bars frequently during training and competition. The sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion.”

Since the athletes were willing to promote their oral health through oral health interventions such as fluoride rinses, prophylactic dental visits and reduced intake of sports drinks, the researchers have been working on designing an oral health intervention study and are hoping to publish the results shortly.

The study, titled “Oral health-related behaviours reported by elite and professional athletes”, was published on 23 August 2019 in the British Dental Journal.

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