Levels of oral health were similar to those in disadvantaged populations, and almost 1 in 5 athletes (18%) surveyed said their oral health negatively impacted their training or performance.
The researchers recruited 302 athletes to take part in the study at the dental clinic in the London 2012 athletes' village. The athletes represented 25 different sports, with 95 (34.9%) competing in track and field, 38 (14%) boxing, and 31 (11.4%) playing hockey.
The athletes were given systematic oral health checkups before being asked for personal assessments of the impact of oral health on their quality of life and athletic training/performance.
Overall, the research team found high levels of poor oral health: 55% of the athletes had dental caries, of which 41% was into the dentine. More than three-quarters of the participants had gingivitis, with 15% showing signs of periodontitis.
Some 42% of the athletes surveyed said they were "bothered" by oral health issues, with 28% saying that these issues affected their quality of life.
Nearly half of participants (46.5%) had not received a dental examination or hygiene care in the previous year, while 8.7% said they had never been to the dentist.
The researchers speculated that the associations between oral health, overall well-being, and performance might be explained by oral disease causing pain, systemic inflammation, and a reduction in self-confidence and quality of life.
Previous studies have repeatedly found athletes to have poor oral health, which might result from frequent carbohydrate intake, reduced immune function through intensive training, and a lack of awareness about the links between oral health and elite performance.
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