Simple Ways to Improve Oral Health: Are You Healthier than an Olympic Athelete?

You probably don't think that being in better health than an Olympic athlete is something you can easily achieve, but by adopting some simple ways to improve oral health, you'll be the one wearing the gold medal. A recent study by the London Eastman Dental Institute in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the oral health of London 2012 Olympic athletes and revealed that 55 percent had cavities, 76 percent had gingivitis (inflammation or infection of the gums) and 15 percent had periodontitis (inflammation or infection of the gums spreading to the ligaments and bone that support the teeth). Nearly half of these athletes had not received a dental examination or dental hygiene care in the previous year.

It was concluded that the oral health of these athletes was poor. Many of them felt it had a negative impact on their athletic performance and well-being.

The Right Tools for the Right Regimen

Practicing proper oral hygiene regimens and using the right tools are really important ways to improve oral health. The American Dental Association's (ADA) Mouth Healthy site recommends brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste to help remove food and plaque (a sticky film of bacteria that forms at the gum line and on the teeth). Correct brushing technique is to place the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle toward your gum line and gently move the bristles back and forth in short strokes. Make sure to brush the outer, inner and biting surfaces of all your teeth. Brush your tongue as well, or use a tongue cleaner. Use a toothbrush that fits comfortably in your mouth and a toothpaste containing active ingredients that can help protect you from specific problems, such as cavities, gum disease, bad breath, tartar buildup, stains or sensitivity; Colgate® Sensitive Pro-Relief in particular addresses sensitivity. The ADA also recommends including an interdental cleaner such as floss once a day as part of a daily routine for a healthy mouth.

Other Ways to Improve Oral Health

Eat a balanced diet and limit sugary snacks and beverages. Consuming whole grains, low-sugar breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables and high-quality protein such as that contained in lean meats, eggs, fish, cheese and dry beans are the best food choices for a healthy mouth. According to the ADA, fruits and vegetables should take up half of your plate, with the other half divided between whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods. Fruits and vegetables are especially beneficial because chewing firm, coarse, watery and fibrous foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, apples and lettuce, stimulates the flow of saliva, which facilitates the digestion of foods and reduces food retention in your mouth. Calcium-fortified tofu can be substituted for animal protein sources.

Regularly visit your dental office for oral exams and professional cleanings. You should go to your dental maintenance visits twice per year, but only your dental health professional can tell you how often you should have your checkup and professional cleaning based on your needs. If you're unsure how to clean your mouth properly, ask your dental health professional to show you the correct technique. If you are experiencing symptoms of disease such as bleeding gums or discomfort, do not wait for your regular checkup because it may be a sign of a problem that requires immediate attention.

Wear a mouth guard if you play a sport. Mouth guards help prevent injuries by cushioning blows to your lips, teeth and jaw when playing sports. Not every Olympic athlete takes the precaution, but a mouth guard is the best protection against getting your teeth broken or knocked out. There are many types of mouth guards, so you will need to ask your dentist to help you decide which type is right for you.

Olympic athletes are viewed as healthy. But what does it really mean to be healthy? Oral health is an important part of your well-being. When you take care of your body, your mouth should be included — and it's simple to do.

About the author: Dianne L. Sefo is a dental hygienist and dental hygiene educator. She has been involved in multiple publications, has worked in private practices in New York and Southern California, and has been a faculty member at Monroe Community College, Concorde Careers College — San Diego, and New York University.

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