This study has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and was led by Professor Ian Needleman from the University College London Eastman Dental Institute.
In the study there were involved as many as 302 athletes from the athletes’ village of the London 2012 Olympics.
They had to participate in a thorough oral health examination and had to answer a few important questions regarding how oral health impacts the quality of their life and athletic performance.
The athletes came from different cultural backgrounds, and they came from different sports backgrounds too, such as boxing, track field or hockey. The study found that approximately 55% of the athletes struggled with untreated dental decay, and of this percentage about 41% had irreversible tooth damage.
Also, well over 75% were struggling with early onset gum disease (gingivitis), and as many as 15% struggled with the first signs of periodontitis which is a gum infection that is irreversible.
According to Professor Needleman, in the field of elite sports there should be not existent such a great number of people with dental decay or early onset periodontitis.
These oral health complications impact negatively their performance, and more support and attention is needed for the oral healthcare of these athletes.
Some other findings of the study indicate that:
- Approximately 50% of the participants in the study did not get a dental checkup in the last 12 moths
- About 8.7% of these never visited a dentist
- 42% of the participants said they are actually bothered by dental health problems (tooth pain, decay, sensitivity, gum tenderness, etc.)
- 28% said their quality of life is clearly impacted in a negative way by these dental health issues
- 18% of the Olympic athletes said they acknowledge the fact that poor oral health is impacting adversely their performance in sports
- Researchers believe that there is a strong link between oral health, dental pain & discomfort and the level of performance of these elite athletes. They also believe that the greatest majority of the oral health complications in these athletes stem from inflammation and pain because of oral disease, and thus the athletes also struggle with lower self confidence levels. The researchers also brought to light that the poor oral health of the athletes can be easily linked to an excessive carbohydrates intake, and weaker immune system functioning because of excessive and intensive training sessions.
All these oral health conditions such as inflammation, tooth decay or gingivitis can be easily prevented with a regular dental hygiene performed at home, and regular dental visits. Thus the dentist will find any dental problem in its earliest stage and proper treatment will not let things get out of control.