Olympic Athletes At High Risk Of Oral Health Problems

Many sports require athletes to wear mouthguards to protect their teeth from common damage caused by collision. These guards save hundreds of athletes from severe tooth injury. What is not as well known, however, is the other oral health complications common to athletes. Bad teeth are a problem currently plaguing Olympic athletes, even those who do not participate in contact sports.

Evidence from the 2012 London Olympics

During the 2012 Olympics held in London, a dental clinic consisting of 30 dentists was set up in the athletes’ village. This clinic had around 1,900 visits over the duration of the games. Athletes were coming in late into the night to have root canals and other dental work so that they could focus better in their events. Many of these athletes had advanced tooth decay and periodontal disease.

A study that looked at 278 of the clinic’s visitors found that 55% had tooth decay. Three quarters of the athletes included in the study suffered from gum disease like gingivitis, while 15% of the athletes suffered from serious periodontitis. One third of these athletes reported that their oral health problems diminished their quality of life. Tooth pain can take a toll on an athlete’s ability to focus, and in some cases infections can develop that could spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

The Cause of Poor Oral Health

dreamstime_xs_25804374Part of the reason that so many athletes suffer from bad teeth is what they consume to pump up their game. Many athletes train hard, for hours at a time, and enhance their stamina with sugary energy bars and acidic energy drinks. The acidic nature of the energy drinks wears down the protective enamel layer, allowing bacteria feasting on lingering sugars to essentially eat into the tooth underneath.

Another part of the problem is sweating. Athletes work up a sweat as they train and compete. Excessive sweating can cause dehydration, which energy drinks do not effectively prevent. Dehydration will reduce the saliva production in the mouth, and can change the pH of saliva, causing it to become acidic. Saliva is an important part of not only breaking down foods that enter the mouth, but also plays a big role in the health of enamel.

Many athletes also show advanced tooth wear from tooth grinding. The grinding damage occurs largely from clenching teeth while exerting great physical effort in events like weight lifting. Some of the athletes visiting the clinic had teeth that were worn down to flat surfaces on top from grinding alone.

Saving Time and Money

The poor oral health trend in athletes could possibly be partly due to a combination of time and money. For athletes training for the Olympics, time is everything. The time that they have needs to be dedicated to training so that they don’t fall behind other competitors. With their minds so focused on improving their game, it is easy to forget to take care of oral health. On top of not wanting to interrupt training time, athletes could also put off their oral care until the Olympic Games because the dental clinics set up during the event are free. For some, it may be more worth it just to wait and have free care than it is to take time out of their training to pay for dental work that they would rather avoid in the first place.

The problem is that tooth emergencies can actually prevent athletes from competing. Recognizing that tooth problems can reduce an athlete’s competitiveness or even force them to miss competitions, some Olympic coaches have begun prioritizing dental care.

Caring For Your Teeth

Whether you are an athlete or just like to work out from time to time, maintaining your oral health is important. Tooth problems can not only impact your focus, but can negatively affect the rest of your health as well. Although things like white fillings, dental crowns, and root canal therapy can help return your oral health and protect damaged teeth, preventative care is the best plan.

Part of what you can do for yourself is to limit the amount of energy bars and energy drinks you include in your workout or training. Keep yourself hydrated with water instead. Proper hydration will give you the energy that you need to keep moving. On top of changing your workout habits, a regular flossing and brushing routine can make a huge difference in your oral health. Professional tooth cleanings twice a year will help remove any plaque and tartar that is harder to get rid of on your own, and will show your dentist any developing problems before they become severe.

To learn more about taking care of your teeth so that dental problems do not interfere in your life, please call 303-759-5652 today to schedule an appointment with a Denver dentist at Park Meadows Dental Care.