Study finds poor dental health of professional athletes affects performance

November 4, 2015

Pulled muscles, concussions and other bumps and bruises are all injuries that come with the territory of being a professional athlete and can negatively affect athletic performance. However, in addition to these common problems, new research suggests that dental health can also play a crucial role in athletic success.

Pulled muscles, concussions and other bumps and bruises are all injuries that come with the territory of being a professional athlete and can negatively affect athletic performance. However, in addition to these common problems, new research suggests that dental health can also play a crucial role in athletic success - or failure.

A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that nearly four out of 10 United Kingdom professional soccer players have active tooth decay, while one in 20 has irreversible gum disease.

More dentistry in sports: Teams - and teeth - get knocked out of the NBA playoffs

This poor level of dental health is affecting performance and wellbeing, and the sport needs to tackle this head on as a matter of urgency, said the researchers. While there has been mounting evidence suggesting that the dental health of professional/elite soccer players is below average, the impact on play has not been clear.

To uncover more information, researchers assessed the prevalence of tooth and gum problems, and the impact on wellbeing and performance, among a representative sample of 187 professional soccer players from eight clubs in England and Wales.

The study looked at players from five Premier League teams, including Manchester United, Southampton, West Ham and Swansea; Championship teams Cardiff and Brighton & Hove Albion; and League One squad Sheffield United. The average age of the players was 24, but ranged from 18 to 39.

More dentistry in sports: LeBron James' visit to the dentist is far from a slam dunk

Six dentists comprehensively checked the tooth and gum health of every player-equivalent to more than 90 percent of each senior squad-and each player was asked about the impact of dental health on their personal and professional lives.

 The checkups revealed a high prevalence of poor dental health, most of which was preventable, despite the fact that almost three out of four players said they had had a dental checkup within the past year.

 

Continue to page two for more...

 

 

Nearly four out of 10 (37 percent) of the players had active tooth decay (dental caries). Additionally, dental erosion, in which the tooth structure is worn away by acid, was evident in over half (53 percent). Nearly two thirds (64 percent) said they drank sports drinks at least three times a week, although the researchers point out that the association between sports drinks and dental erosion “remains unclear.”

Related reading: Research finds runners at higher risk for tooth decay

Eight out of 10 players also had gum disease (gingivitis); with one in 20 (five percent) showing moderate to severe-and irreversible-symptoms. Half the mouth was affected by gum disease in three out of four players. Around one in six (16 percent) reported current pain in their mouth or teeth, while around one in four (27 percent) experienced dental sensitivity to hot or cold food or drink.

The soccer players said that the state of their mouths did affect them. Poor tooth and gum health “bothered” almost half (45 percent) of them, and one in five (20 percent) said it undermined their quality of life. Around seven percent said that it adversely affected their performance or training.

“This study provides the most reliable evidence that oral health within professional football is poor, and is consistent with research conducted in Brazil, Spain, and the USA,” wrote the researchers. The level of poor dental health uncovered by the study is likely to add up to a substantial need for current and future treatment.

More dentistry in sports: Rugby players get teeth replaced with bottle openers

Researchers called for regular dental screening to be a part of routine medical care in professional soccer, together with an increased emphasis on simple effective preventive approaches to help athletes look after their teeth and gums.

“Successful strategies to promote oral health within professional football are urgently needed,” they emphasized. “This study provides strong evidence to support oral health screening within professional football."

 

This article was published from materials provided by the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It has been edited for content and length.