A new study confirms that top athletes in Great Britain have bad teeth. Although the study looks exclusively at athletes from the UK, its results are much more broadly applicable than that–many top athletes are plagued by dental problems. Understanding why competing as an elite athlete damages teeth helps show why a holistic dentistry approach is better for many people and is often the only way to get good results.
How Bad Are Their Teeth?
The new study expands on results from earlier work looking at Olympic athletes in the 2012 Olympics held in London. This study looked at 278 Olympic athletes that visited a dental clinic set up during the games. The athletes were from around the world, with the majority coming from Africa, the Americas, and Europe. It found that 55% of the athletes had untreated dental cavities, 45% had tooth erosion, and 76% had gum disease.
The new study looks exclusively at athletes on 9 of GB’s olympic teams, a total of 350 athletes. The results show similar basic findings: 49% had untreated cavities and 77% had gum disease. As with the previous study, athletes reported that their quality of life and athletic performance were impacted by poor oral health. However, the new study also allows us to look in more detail at the factors that contribute to these oral health problems.
Why Brushing Is Not Enough
Conventional wisdom states that regular brushing and flossing is all that’s necessary to protect teeth from decay, and that when people experience high levels of decay, lack of prevention is usually the cause. However, this study puts the lie to that assumption. Around 97% of the athletes in the study said they brushed twice a day, and 40% said they flossed every day. This is higher than the general population where about 75% of people brush twice a day and 21% floss every day. So why are athletes at a higher risk of tooth decay?
One of the problems is diet. Athletes often rely on heavy carbohydrate intake to try to boost their energy when training or competing. And they often intake carbs in the form of sugars mixed in with acidic sports drinks, sticky carbs, or slick gels. These can give oral bacteria a boost as much as it boosts the athlete.
And many athletes also dry their mouths out when training or competing, especially runners and cyclists who are breathing hard and moving fast. Saliva protects teeth, and without it, cavities are more likely.
Finally, there’s a psychological component, too. Many athletes report that pre-competition nerves make them throw up. This exposes teeth to acidic attack, leading to erosion and decay. Stress can also cause them to clench and grind teeth.
We Look at the Entire Situation
Clearly, just a simple recommendation to brush and floss your teeth isn’t enough to protect them from decay and disease. It’s important to look at many other factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and psychology to ensure your teeth are truly healthy so you can avoid decay and gum disease.
We understand that taking a holistic approach leads to better dental care. When you come into our office, we will look at all the factors that contribute to your oral health, and we’ll figure out how to protect your teeth.
Best of all, this allows us to take a minimally invasive approach to dentistry. We try to utilize comprehensive prevention strategies and work with your body’s natural healing mechanisms to prevent or reverse decay, so we avoid restorative dentistry whenever possible.