Elite athletes have poor oral health

LONDON, Aug 27 — A new UK study has found that elite athletes have high rates of oral disease, even though they tend to brush their teeth more frequently than most people.

The study, carried out by researchers at University College London (UCL), looked at 352 Olympic and professional athletes across 11 sports, including cycling, swimming, rugby, football, rowing, hockey, sailing and athletics.

The researchers analysed the athletes’ dental check-ups, which looked at tooth decay, gum health and acid erosion, and surveyed the participants about what they did to keep their mouth, teeth and gums healthy.

The findings, published in the British Dental Journal, showed that 94 per cent of the athletes reported brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and 44 per cent reported regularly flossing. In comparison, 75 per cent of the population brush their teeth twice daily, and just 21 per cent floss.

However, despite these good oral hygiene habits, the check-ups revealed substantial amounts of oral disease, with 49.1 per cent of the athletes showing untreated tooth decay, and the large majority showing early signs of gum inflammation. In addition, 32 per cent actually reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.

As to possible causes of this poor dental health, the researchers found that many of the athletes regularly used sports drinks (87 per cent), energy bars (59 per cent) and energy gels (70 per cent), which have a high sugar content and are known to damage teeth.

“We found that a majority of the athletes in our survey already have good oral health related habits in as much as they brush their teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly, don’t smoke and have a healthy general diet,” said study author Dr Julie Gallagher.

“However, they use sports drinks, energy gels and bars frequently during training and competition; the sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion. This could be contributing to the high levels of tooth decay and acid erosion we saw during the dental check-ups,” she added.

The researchers noted the findings highlight the potential for improvement, with most of the athletes saying that they would be willing to change their oral hygiene habits in order to improve their oral health.

Gallagher said: “Athletes were willing to consider behaviour changes such as additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits, and reducing their intake of sports drinks, to improve oral health.” — AFP-Relaxnews

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