Olympic Athletes at Greater Risk of Poor Oral Health

05 Aug 2016
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As the world’s greatest athletes gather in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics, the Oral Health Foundation is encouraging them to take better care of their teeth. Elite competitors face a significantly higher risk of dental erosion than non-athletes, the organization reports.

For example, one 2014 study of triathletes who engaged in more weekly training had more cavities than those who trained less. The high carbohydrate consumption of these competitors, which includes sports drinks, gels, and bars, lowers the mouth’s pH level below 5.5. The greater acid concentration means more decay and erosion.

“Top athletes are putting their oral health at risk through their training regime, and we are urging them to make sure they take time to look after their oral health so they can showcase their smile on a global scale,” said Dr. Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation.

Another study discovered that 55% of the athletes at the London 2012 games had tooth decay. Also, more than 3 of 4 of these Olympians had gingivitis and 15% had signs of periodontitis.

“This is a significant number of people, and as Olympians they are held up as role models by children across the globe. They should make sure they look after their oral health,” said Carter, who also offered these athletes advice that would be good for everyone to take.

“At the very least they should be brushing for 2 minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, visiting their dentist regularly, and trying to limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks they consume. And if this is not possible, drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free chewing gum to reduce the sugar’s impact on the teeth,” he said.

However, world-class athletes often consume lots of sugary drinks across a prolonged period of time to get them through their respective events despite the long-term risks of eroding enamel and decayed teeth.

“If everyday people taking part in sports, including children, are looking to copy their Olympic heroes’ habits, it is important to limit the amount of times they have anything acidic or sugary,” Carter said.

“Using a straw to help drinks go to the back of the mouth will help limit the amount of time a fizzy drink will be in contact with teeth,” he continued. “If the use of energy drinks, particularly amongst children, continues to rise, dental health problems will persist well into adulthood.”

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