After reports from the 2012 London Olympics showed dreadful oral health among athletes, many elite performers have started learning from their mistakes.
Dentists say athletes stand a better chance of winning if they take care of their teeth, which makes sense, since oral health may reflect overall health.
At the 2012 Games, 55 percent of athletes recruited for dental examinations had cavities, 45 percent had dental erosion and a staggering 76 percent suffered from gingivitis. Nearly half of the participants had not seen a dentist within the previous year. With such a dismal oral health track record, roughly 4 out of 10 athletes said they were bothered by the condition of their mouths, many complaining that it had hindered their training and performance.
At this elite level of play, the margin between winning or losing is so minute that even a small improvement could mean standing on the podium versus going home empty-handed.
Earlier this year at the Sochi Winter Games, Olympians took the advice in stride. There were several dental clinics located in the Olympic Winter Games facilities, where about 600 athletes, officials and coaches visited for screenings, routine dental care – including cavity treatments - and emergency care.
“Maintaining good oral health and hygiene is a critical part of an athlete’s overall health regimen and, in turn, their effectiveness,” Dr. Tony Clough, a consultant during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, explained to the source. “Surprisingly, however, there are a lot of elite athletes that lack access to care and preventative products.”
Dentists point out that tooth pain can disrupt sleep and inflammation of the gums could impact the rest of the body, worsening performance. But it’s not unheard of for poor oral health to have larger effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, an unhealthy mouth is linked to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
The boxing team from Great Britain has been improving their oral health as of late, with doctors and dentists looking after athletes’ teeth and gums. The boxers are now receiving regular dental checkups, and brushing and flossing regularly to fight off gingivitis and dental caries (cavities).
“I’ve become aware over the years that dental problems have been interfering with training. It stops them getting that little bit fitter and may have a consequence when they get into the ring and box,” Dr. Mike Loosemore, who has worked with the country’s boxing team for 17 years and is a consultant at the English Institute of Sport, told the BBC.
For Olympians, flossing and brushing regularly, rinsing with alcohol-free mouthwash and visiting the dentist could mean gold – advice even weekend joggers can aspire to.