There’s no better explanation for their performance. Everything I have heard says we have a gold medal team. Perhaps they need their teeth cleaned? Maybe it’s halitosis? Whatever it is, we’re here for them.
Studies have repeatedly found athletes have poor oral health, something which might result from frequent carbohydrate intake, a reduced immune function through intensive training and a lack of awareness about the links between oral health and elite performance. This seems so odd given that athletes appear to be so conscious of the body and its maintenance. One would think oral health assessments would be part of every athlete’s routine medical care. But once age if we are going to help athletes optimize their level of performance we need to focus on oral health promotion and disease prevention strategies that facilitate the health and wellbeing of athletes.
Researchers from the UCL Eastman Dental Institute recruited 302 athletes to take part in a study in the London 2012 Olympic athletes’ village. The athletes represented 25 different sports, with 95 (34.9 per cent) competing in track and field, 38 (14 per cent) boxing and 31 (11.4 per cent) playing hockey. The athletes were given a systematic oral health check-up before being asked to give a personal assessment of the impact of oral health on their quality of life and athletic training/performance.
Overall, the research team found high levels of poor oral health with 55 per cent of athletes suffering from dental caries (tooth decay), of which 41 per cent was into the dentine (and therefore irreversible). More than three quarters of the participants had gingivitis (early stage gum disease) with 15 per cent showing signs of periodontitis, an irreversible gum infection in the soft tissue around the teeth.
42 per cent of athletes taking part in the study said that they were, “bothered by oral health” issues, with 28 per cent saying that it affected their quality of life. Almost one in five (18 per cent) athletes said that they believed poor oral health was negatively affecting their training or performance levels.
Oddly enough, nearly half of participants (46.5 per cent) had not attended for a dental examination or hygiene care in the previous year, while 8.7 per cent said they had never been to the dentist. Education is still the key to patient care. Until the general population realizes the link between their oral health and their global health or unless there’s an immediate health issue, dentistry will never take its proper place in health care.
Novy Scheinfeld, DDS, PC
290 Carpenter Drive, 200A
Atlanta (Sandy Springs), GA 30328
 Needleman I. et al. Oral health and impact on performance of athletes participating in the London 2012 Olympic Games. British Journal of Sports Medicine, September 2013