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  • Dr. John Chao

What Causes Elite Athletes to Have Poor Dental Health?

Updated: Aug 26

Just because you exercise regularly and are in top physical shape, it doesn’t mean you will also have good dental health. In fact, elite athletes have high rates of oral disease not because of lack of brushing. In fact, they brush their teeth more frequently than most people, finds a new UCL study. The main culprit appears to be “energy drinks.”

The findings, published in the British Dental Journal, highlight potential for improvement as most of the athletes expressed an interest in changing their oral hygiene behavior to improve their oral health.


The UCL Eastman Dental Institute research team surveyed 352 Olympic and professional athletes across 11 sports, including cycling, swimming, rugby, football, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics, where they provided dental check-ups for male and female athletes measuring tooth decay, gum health and acid erosion.

The researchers also asked athletes what they did to keep their mouth, teeth and gums healthy.


The dental check-ups revealed substantial amounts of oral disease as reported in a 2018 paper, finding that nearly half (49.1%) had untreated tooth decay, the large majority showed early signs of gum inflammation, and almost a third (32%) reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.


This new study found that 94% reported brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and 44% reported regularly cleaning between their teeth (flossing) -- substantially higher figures than for the general population (75% for twice-daily brushing and 21% for flossing).

However, the researchers found that the athletes regularly use sports drinks (87%), energy bars (59%) and energy gels (70%), which are known to damage teeth.


Encouragingly, the surveyed athletes said they would consider adopting even better oral hygiene habits to tackle this and an intervention study has already been piloted.

Just because you are athletic, it doesn’t mean you will have good oral health. So, watch the sweet drinks. See your dentist regularly to check for decay and gum inflammation.

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