When we look at elite athletes we always think they are models for a healthy life. Yet behind those gritted teeth and winning smiles lurks the truth.
Experts from Britain and America have just reviewed 39 published studies into the oral health of professional sportsmen and women and the findings have not been good.
They found that 15-75% – a very wide spectrum – were affected with decaying teeth. moderate to severe gum disease affected 15% and enamel erosion 36-85%.
These figures back up a survey carried out at the London 2012 Olympics where 46.5% of athletes admitted that they had not been to the dentist in the past year. Of those 18% admitted dental problems had affected their performance in the past year.
“Oral health could be an easy win for athletes, as the oral conditions that can affect performance are all easily preventable,” said Ian Needleman a professor at the University College of London who co-led the latest study.
The study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine claims that athletes face intense dietary and training pressures, all of which took a toll on their teeth. Saliva helps protect the teeth from erosion and decay, so dehydration during strenuous exercise can easily increase the risk of oral ill health.
Fast energy replenishment leads to athletes using high carbohydrate diets or drinking sugary, acidic energy drinks which can in fact boost the risk of tooth decay and enamel damage.
“We do not want to demonise energy drinks and are not saying that athletes shouldn’t use them, however people should be aware of the risks to oral health and can take simple measures to mitigate these. For example water or hypotonic drinks are likely to be more suitable for simple dehydration and spit don’t rinse after brushing,” was Mr Needleman’s advice. “For sports where athletes need a lot of energy drinks, high fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses should be considered.”
No reason was given as to why athletes defer trips to their dentist, but one advised that on their meagre earnings the cost is extremely prohibitive.