Better Teeth, Better Performance

Having good oral health is not only important for an athlete’s overall well being, a new study shows it impacts athletic performance. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed 18 percent of athletes who attended the dental clinic of the London 2012 Olympic Games said their oral health damaged their training and performance in the games.

Even more demonstrated high levels of poor oral health. Researchers surveyed and examined 302 athletes from 25 sports, the majority from Africa, North America, Europe and South America. The results included:

  • Fifty-five percent had dental caries, the disease that causes cavities;
  • Forty-five percent had dental erosion;
  • More than three-quarters had gingivitis and 15 percent had gum disease;
  • More than 40 percent of athletes were “bothered” by their oral health with 28 percent saying it impacted their quality of life and 18 percent saw an impact on their training and performance;
  • Nearly half of the participants had not had an oral exam or hygiene care in the previous year.

"As oral health is an important element of overall health and well-being, health promotion and disease prevention interventions are urgently required to optimize athletic performance," the researchers wrote.

According to the American Dental Association, your general health is often linked to your oral health.

"Oral health touches every aspect of our lives but is often taken for granted," according to the ADA. "Your mouth is a window into the health of your body. It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection. Systemic diseases, those that affect the entire body, may first become apparent because of mouth lesions or other oral problems."

To learn more about how your oral health affects the rest of your body, visit MouthHealthy.org and click on A-Z topics. To read the full study on Olympic athletes' oral health, which was first published online in September 2013, visit http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2013/09/24/bjsports-2013-092891.abstract.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.