Elite Athletes Have Poor Oral Health Despite Their Hygiene Habits

Aloha, OR family dentist

As an Aloha, OR family dentist, Dr. Bronitsky wants all of her patients to understand just how big a role what we eat plays in determining our oral health.

Sure, we could probably all agree that drinking a 12-pack of soda a day and eating something decadently sweet at every meal will probably lead to poor oral health, along with a variety of other problems. But what about other items that are supposed to help make us healthier?

Elite athletes act as an interesting example of this unique phenomenon where, despite making every effort to improve the health of their bodies, the food and drinks they consume inadvertently cause harm to their oral health.

High performance athletes have a very high rate of oral disease, this despite brushing and flossing their teeth far more frequently than the average person, according to the results of a new study.

Oral Health & High Performance Athletes

Published in the British Dental Journal, the study, conducted by researchers at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute, surveyed over 350 professional and Olympic athletes across 11 sports that included hockey, rowing, football, rugby, cycling, swimming, sailing, and gymnastics. The participants underwent a thorough dental examination to measure existing tooth decay, gum health, and acid erosion.

Researchers also asked the participants to describe what steps they took individually to care for their oral health.

During dental examinations, researchers determined the athletes were experiencing severe cases of oral disease. They found that nearly half (49.1%) were dealing with untreated tooth decay, and that the large majority showed early signs of gum disease. Finally, nearly a third (32%) reported that oral health problems had contributed to a decline in their performance.

What makes the results of this study so intriguing is that the majority of high performance athletes take far better care of their teeth and gums when compared to the average person.

The study found that 94 percent of the participants claimed that they brushed at least twice a day, and that 44 percent claimed that they flossed daily. These numbers are significantly higher than what other research has found for the general population (75% brush twice a day and only 21% floss daily).

So, what gives?

The study also determined that high performance athletes regularly used sports drinks (87%), energy bars (59%), and energy gels (70%) at much higher rates than most of the general population. All of these items are known to damage an individual’s oral health.

Despite practicing high quality oral hygiene habits, athletes still experienced poor oral health due in large part to their heavy use of performance enhancing products mentioned above as part of their training regimen and competition.

The fact that these types of products contain high levels of sugar increases the risk of tooth decay, while the high acidity of these products contributes to an increase in enamel erosion.

The results of this study build off of earlier research conducted during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. In those findings, researchers suggested that elite athletes may also face an elevated risk of oral disease due to bouts of dry mouth that occur during intensive training regimens.

Protecting Your Oral Health

So, while most of us won’t be performing on the largest and most competitive stages in the world, we can still learn a valuable lesson – What we eat greatly influences the state of our oral health, often regardless of our brushing and flossing habits.

As your Aloha, OR family dentist, Dr. Brontisky will provide the care needed to keep your teeth and gums looking and feeling their best. However, unless you really like seeing your Aloha, OR family dentist on a regular basis, you should seriously consider keeping an eye on what you eat on a daily basis, even if you think it’s helping you become healthier.