You don’t need to be a Sonora dentist like Dr. Berger to know that an unhealthy smile can seriously impact your productivity. A recent study found that 320 million hours of work or school are missed each year in the U.S. due to dental care, 92 million hours of which were for emergency care, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While a persistent toothache or trouble chewing can make it difficult to focus at work or school, imagine trying to perform at a high level while dealing with poor oral health. Despite their extreme level of fitness, elite athletes in a wide variety of sports actually display high levels of oral disease, according to a new study from University College London’s Eastman Dental Institute.
In their study, researchers screened over 350 male and female athletes from 11 Olympic and professional sports, making this study the largest and most comprehensive ever conducted on high performance athletes.
“This is the most methodologically robust study to ever evaluate oral health and associated performance impact in elite athletes,” wrote researchers. “Every sport examined revealed significant levels of oral ill health with the overall risk of tooth decay being higher for an elite athlete than the general population.”
The results of the study were published in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.
Better Performance Demands Better Oral Health
As part of the study, researchers examined a pool of athletes with a mean age of 25 years, 67 percent of which were male. Nearly half of the athletes examined were dealing with untreated tooth decay. Additionally, 77 percent had gum inflammation, one of the earliest and most precise indicators of gum disease. Finally, 32 percent of the athletes reported that their oral health had impacted their performance level.
Other health impacts reported in the study included problems eating (34 percent), trouble sleeping or relaxing (15 percent), and negative effects of smiling and self-confidence (17 percent). Remarkably, just slightly over 1 percent of the athletes were judged to be in “excellent” periodontal health, with nearly 88 percent showing signs of gingivitis, and 21 percent showing the signs of periodontitis. Finally, 39 percent reported experiencing bleeding gums after brushing.
“The odds of having tooth decay was also 2.4 times greater in team sport than endurance sport,” noted researchers.
Considering the state of their oral health, it would be easy to assume that the athletes regularly ignored their oral health while training. However, 97 percent reported brushing twice a day, and 40 percent reported flossing at least once a day. By comparison, only 70 percent of Americans brush twice a day, while just 40 percent floss daily. This has led researchers to suspect that the poor oral health of these athletes may be due more to diet and activity than poor oral hygiene.
Diet Plays An Important Role
Training for high performance events requires consuming high-calorie meals loaded with carbs and complex sugars. While athletes don’t experience the weight gain this type of diet would cause in a non-athlete, the oral health risks remain the same.
“Nutrition in sports is heavily reliant on frequent carbohydrate intakes, which are known to increase inflammation in the body and gum tissues,” explains the research team.
Another cause may be that in sports where there is a lot of airflow, such as cycling and running, heavy breathing can cause the mouth to dry out, so teeth lose the protective benefits of saliva. Previous research has shown a lower quality of saliva exists with intensive training.
For researchers, the next step will be testing strategies that athletes and their training teams can use to fit better oral health routines into their lives and training schedules. Researchers also seek to better understand how they can influence athletes to give their oral health greater importance as part of their training regimen.
“Oral diseases are preventable by simple interventions: raising awareness and motivation to maintain good oral health, brushing teeth, regularly cleaning between teeth, health nutrition, and regular checkups,” stated researchers.
Improving Your Oral Health
Even if you’re not a professional athlete, there’s still much to learn from this study. If you want to take your game to the next level, eating a healthy diet, remaining committed to brushing and flossing daily, and scheduling regular exams with your Sonora dentist are all vitally important.
We can all marvel at the athletic ability demonstrated by professional athletes, and we can all enjoy a gold-winning smile by making our oral health a top priority.