British Study Finds a Connection Between Poor Oral Health and Athletic Performance
A study conducted by the British scientists that was recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that poor oral health negatively affects athletic performance. Professor Ian Needleman and his colleagues from the UCL Eastman Dental Institute kept track of over 300 athletes who participated the 2012 London Olympic Games, more specifically of their oral health and its impact on their Olympic achievements. The scientists were surprised to find that the athletes’ teeth and gums weren’t in “Olympic shape” and that poor oral health had a negative impact on their performance at the Games.
Results of the Study
The results of the study which, as mentioned earlier, was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveal that of over 300 athletes, more than one half had carries or tooth decay. Three quarters of athletes had gingivitis with nearly one sixth of them having symptoms of periodontitis, a gum infection which is most often caused by poor oral hygiene. The results of the study, however, also reveal that nearly one fifth of the athletes were convinced that their poor oral health was partly responsible for their not so good Olympic performance. Athletes who participated in the study were mostly from European, African and South and North American countries, and competed in 25 different Olympic disciplines.
How Poor Oral Health Affects Athletic Performance
According to the lead author of the study Professor Ian Needleman, poor oral health can negatively affect athletic performance:
- directly as tooth or gum pain can seriously interfere with the athlete’s training
- psychologically because poor oral health often lowers a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem
- by causing widespread inflammation which in turn makes a person more vulnerable to injury and may slow down healing and recovery processes
Why So Many Athletes Neglected Their Oral Health
Approximately one half of the athletes who took part in the British study haven’t seen their dentist for one year. A question occurs, why so many athletes neglected their oral health while working so hard to be in the best shape possible for the Olympics?
According to Needleman, the athletes’ obsession with the Olympic Games is perhaps one of the main reasons why they didn’t take care of their teeth and gums as they should. Professor explained that it’s possible that the athletes were so focused on training that they simply forgot or ignored everything that wasn’t directly related to the Olympics including proper oral hygiene although as they showed, it can have a major influence athletic performance as well.
Needleman added that surprisingly poor oral health among elite athletes may also be related to consumption of teeth-damaging energy drinks and foods high in carbohydrates as well as extreme training. The latter can weaken the immune system and make a person more vulnerable to a variety of health problems including those involving teeth and gums.
The solution for poor oral health is quite simple, really. Most problems involving teeth and gums can easily be prevented with regular brushing and flossing, and regular dental exams. It is recommended to see a dentist every six months.
Becca is an avid health and nutrition blogger. She’s currently working with Dr Patricia Hunter and Ackroyd Dental in Richmond, BC to help educate the athletes about the role dental care plays in performance.
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