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LONDON, UK: Though elite athletes generally possess an enviable level of physical fitness, a recent study has shown that their oral health may leave much to be desired. According to researchers at University College London (UCL), almost one in two elite British sportspeople suffer from dental issues that could be detrimental to their performance.
The study collected information on more than 350 British athletes from nine Olympic sports, including rowers and swimmers, as well as Reading Football Club, cycling’s Team Sky, and English professional rugby teams. Each athlete underwent oral health screening to assess his or her levels of dental caries, tooth erosion and periodontal disease, as well as completed a questionnaire about the impact of oral health on his or her competitive performance and quality of life.
Though 97 per cent of the participants said that they brushed their teeth twice a day—higher than the 75 per cent reported by the general population—49 per cent were found to have untreated caries and 77 per cent signs of gingivitis.
“Every sport examined revealed significant levels of oral ill-health with the overall risk of tooth decay being higher for an elite athlete than the general population,” said Prof. Ian Needleman, from the Centre for Oral Health and Performance at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, who co-led the study.
“Nutrition in sports is heavily reliant on frequent carbohydrate intakes, which are known to increase inflammation in the body and gum tissues.”
“In sports where there is a lot of airflow, such as cycling and running, breathing hard can make the mouth dry so teeth lose the protective benefits of saliva.”
Needleman added that the stress of racing and performing was an important risk factor for poor oral health. “Some athletes [report] vomiting before every race as a result of pre-competition anxiety,” he said.
The research builds upon prior studies on oral health in professional footballers and in athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The findings were presented in Amsterdam in the Netherlands at the recent EuroPerio, a triennial congress focused on research in the fields of periodontics and implantology.