A study conducted by researchers at University College London showed that around 50 percent of athletes suffer from dental issues that are severe enough to have a negative impact on their performance. The team identified high rates of gum disease and other oral health conditions among groups of performers, including swimmers, rowers and rugby players.
Ian Needleman, a professor from the prestigious Eastman Dental Institute at UCL, explained that high carbohydrate intake is a major contributing factor to the prevalence of dental issues among athletes. The co-author of the study also added that dry mouth is an issue in sports where heavy breathing is common, including cycling and running. Stress can also cause some athletes to vomit before a performance, which can increase the risk of acid erosion of the enamel.
The study involved around 350 athletes from nine Olympic teams, the Reading football team, England’s rugby team and cyclists from Team Sky. Athletes underwent oral health checks and assessments, and they were also asked to complete a questionnaire about the impact of dental issues on performance. Just under half of those surveyed had decay, while 77 percent had gingivitis (mild gum disease). Almost 40 percent admitted that they experienced bleeding when brushing. More than a third of participants said that dental issues had a negative effect on their performance, as well as their ability to rest and relax.
The findings of the study are interesting, especially as almost all (99%) of those involved said that they brushed their teeth twice a day. This is significantly higher than the national average of 75%, yet the risk of decay was found to be higher in athletes than the general population.
The findings of the study were presented at a European dental conference in Holland recently.