Poor oral health impacting athletes’ general health and performance shows little signs of improvement and must be addressed, states a group of UCL led health experts and sporting bodies.
In a recent statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers called for action to deal with poor dental health among athletes. Researchers claim that simple steps such as encouraging better brushing and flossing habits could provide the same marginal performance gains as derived from expensive physical therapies.
The statement was released early this year as part of the Oral Health and Performance in Sport, a joint study conducted by researchers at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute and Institute of Sport Exercise and Health. This resulted in a conference held at UCL where experts in oral health and sports medicine came together with sporting associations and high performance athletes to produce a plan on how to improve dental health in sports.
A UCL survey at the London 2012 Olympic Games discovered that 18 percent of athletes claimed that their oral health negatively impacted their performance and 46.5 percent had not seen a dentist in the past year. This latest statement aims to address such issues by making oral health part of the wider culture of sports medicine and health promotion.
A Race Towards Better Oral Health
Better oral health could be an easy way to improve performance for athletes, as the oral health problems that impact performance are all easily preventable, stated researchers in the statement. Professional athletes and their teams spend a great deal of time and money on ways to improve performance while overlooking how oral health can impair an athlete’s work on the field.
Simple strategies to prevent oral health problems can offer marginal performance improvements that require little to no additional resources. Simple steps like teaching athletes better brushing techniques and the use of high-fluoride toothpastes could prevent troublesome toothaches and sleeping difficulties that make all the difference between gold and silver, explained researchers in their report.
A Change of Diet Needed
The high demands of training and dietary pressures on athletes could place them at high risk of dental concerns for a variety of reasons. Saliva helps to protect teeth from the effects of decay, so dehydration and dry mouth could increase the risk of oral health problems. The amount of energy that athletes need for training often requires they have high-carbohydrate diets and regularly use acidic, sugary energy drinks. These types of beverages may contribute to erosion and decay of athlete’s teeth.
While researchers don’t advocate that athletes should avoid the use of energy drinks and high-calorie nutritional bars as part of their training regimen, athletes do need to be aware of the potential impact these types of foods and drinks could have on their long-term dental health and athletic performance. Once athletes become better educated about the dangers such dietary and physical activities could have on their oral health, researchers hope athletes will start to focus on the health of their teeth and gums with the same intensity as they do the rest of their bodies.
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