The Link Between Good Oral Health And Athletic Performance
Studies show that people with missing teeth are more likely to experience mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Other studies show that poor oral health can lead to other physical symptoms, but new research now suggests that your teeth and gums can affect physical performance, particularly in competitive sports. Learn more about the link between good dental health and peak performance, and find out why great athletes should also have great teeth.
What research shows
During the Oral Health And Performance In Sport conference in London, delegates heard about groundbreaking research that found a clear link between dental problems and physical performance.
Researchers studied 302 athletes who took part in 25 sports, including participants from Africa, Europe and the Americas. The study found that athletes generally had poor dental health. Dental problems included:
- Dental caries (55 percent)
- Dental erosion (45 percent)
- Gingivitis (76 percent)
- Periodontitis (15 percent)
What's more, around 40 percent of the athletes suggested that their dental health was an issue, with 28 percent of participants indicating that oral health problems affected their quality of life. Indeed, 18 percent of the athletes said that problems with their teeth and gums affected their performance.
How competitive sports cause problems with oral health
While athletes focus their time on developing strength, speed or stamina, it seems that oral health can still suffer. People taking part in these sports face unique dental challenges.
Nutrition and diet form a big part of the problem. Athletes often consume sports drinks and supplements like energy gels at regular intervals during a competition. These products contain a lot of sugar, and the acidic content can quickly cause dental erosion.
In certain sports, eating disorders can also become more common, particularly where participants must lose a lot of weight. For example, one survey indicated that 28 percent of elite gymnasts reported eating disorders. These disorders can cause dental problems, including tooth erosion from the excess oral acidity that regular vomiting can cause.
Athletes are also more likely to suffer with conditions like dry mouth, due to dehydration during a competition. Reduced salivary flow can allow harmful bacteria to build up in your mouth, increasing the risk of an infection. In some cases, an athlete's immune system becomes weaker because he or she exercises so often.
Poor attitudes to oral health can also cause problems for competitive athletes. In many cases, athletes don't see the issue as a priority and will put off a visit to the dentist. Athletic organizations may not encourage good dental care, and team coaches are more likely to focus solely on the improvements required to win a competition.
Advice for athletes
Good dental hygiene is a critical part of any competitive athlete's career, so it's important to take every possible measure to look after your teeth.
Show the same discipline in looking after your teeth as you would for the rest of your body. Make sure you brush your teeth twice daily, and floss between your teeth at least once a day. You can also use a sodium fluoride mouthwash between brushing sessions.
Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a dental check-up. He or she can also spot potential problems and give you advice about hot spots you need to focus on. For example, an infection around the wisdom teeth is particularly common between the ages of 18 and 24, so it's important that young athletes pay particular attention in these areas.
You should also aim to cut down on the amount of sugar you eat, especially if this dietary change doesn't impact your training schedule. If you use energy drinks, try to rinse your mouth with water regularly to stop the acidic beverage staying in contact with your teeth. Your cosmetic dentistry may also recommend a fluoride varnish or fissure sealants, which can add an extra protective layer to your teeth.
When an athlete is at peak physical performance, he or she must also make sure his or her teeth don't suffer. Studies show that tooth and gum problems can get in the way of your training, so it pays to take time to look after your oral health too.