Health experts call for action to tackle athletes' poor oral health

2014 10 22 16 36 27 640 Olympic Flag 200

Poor oral health affecting elite athletes' general health and performance shows "no signs of improvement" and must be remedied, according to a consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (September 28, 2014) by University College London (UCL) health experts and sporting bodies.

Simple measures such as encouraging better brushing and flossing could provide the same marginal performance gains as expensive physical therapies, according to the authors.

The statement came out of the April 2014 Oral Health and Performance in Sport collaboration led by Ian Needleman, BDS, PhD, a professor of periodontology at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, and Mike Loosemore, MBBS, of the UCL Institute of Sport Exercise and Health, both in London. This resulted in a conference held at UCL where experts in oral health and sports medicine met with sporting associations and elite athletes to produce a consensus on how to improve oral health in sport.

“Better toothbrushing techniques and higher fluoride toothpastes could prevent the toothache and associated sleeping and training difficulties that can make the crucial difference between gold and silver.”
— Ian Needleman, BDS, PhD

A UCL survey at the London 2012 Olympic Games found that 18% of athletes said that their oral health had a negative impact on their performance, and 46.5% had not been to the dentist in the past year. The latest consensus statement aims to address such issues by embedding oral health into the wider culture of sports healthcare and health promotion.

"Oral health could be an easy win for athletes, as the oral conditions that can affect performance are all easily preventable," Dr. Needleman said in a statement. "Professional athletes and their teams spend a lot of time and money on ways to marginally improving performance, as this can make all the difference in elite sports. Simple strategies to prevent oral health problems can offer marginal performance gains that require little to no additional time or money. Things like better toothbrushing techniques and higher fluoride toothpastes could prevent the toothache and associated sleeping and training difficulties that can make the crucial difference between gold and silver."

The intense dietary and training pressures on athletes could put them at high risk of oral health problems for many reasons. Saliva helps to protect teeth from caries and erosion, so dehydration and drying of the mouth could increase the risk of oral health problems. The amount of energy that athletes need for training often means they have high-carbohydrate diets and regularly use sugary, acidic energy drinks. These may contribute to caries and erosion in athletes' teeth.

"We do not want to demonize energy drinks and are not saying that athletes shouldn't be using them," Dr. Needleman said. "However, people should be aware of the risks to oral health and can take simple measures to mitigate these.

For example, he noted that water or hypotonic drinks are likely to be more suitable for simple hydration, and stated "spit don't rinse" after toothbrushing. For sports in which athletes need a lot of energy drinks, high-fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses should be considered.

The authors also recommended regular dental appointments to identify and address oral health issues before they can affect performance. Olympic athletes are all supposed to have a dental checkup within 12 months of the competition, but, as the previous survey found, almost half of the athletes at London 2012 had not.

The consensus statement calls for national sport funders and policy organizations to take the lead in ensuring that oral health is regularly assessed, especially preseason, to allow for personalization of prevention plans and early treatment of any disease.

"I think this is an important consensus statement. My experience of instituting a program of improving oral health in elite sportsmen has had a very positive effect," Dr. Mike Loosemoore said.

Page 1 of 59
Next Page