Athletes often work hard to take care of their bodies. They know that being in top health means being more competitive. That’s why the results of a new study are shocking: it shows that many top athletes in Great Britain have bad teeth. These results are likely widely applicable to athletes around the world.
But why do athletes, who are taking good care of themselves, often have bad teeth? Holistic dentistry shows us why, and shows us how we can improve the oral health of people around the world, including athletes.
How Bad Are Their Teeth?
This new study looks at a total of 350 athletes who compete on 9 of the UK’s Olympic teams. Researchers found that 49% of these athletes had untreated dental care, and 77% had gum disease. For comparison, in the UK, only 7% of adults had untreated cavities according to a 2009 study.
Although these results only reflect UK athletes, there is good reason to believe they’re actually reflective of competitive athletes around the world. In 2012, the same team did a study of athletes at the Olympic Games in London. They looked at athletes from many countries, mostly from Africa, the Americas, and Europe. In that study, they found that 55% of athletes had untreated tooth decay and 76% had gum disease, so pretty close to the figures for the UK athletes in this new study.
Additional data from this new study also helps us explore why these athletes are experiencing high levels of decay and what we can do about it.
Why Brushing Is Not Enough
When people have tooth decay, we often talk about oral hygiene and how it can protect teeth and gums from disease. However, this study shows that tooth brushing and flossing is not enough to protect teeth. The study shows that 97% of athletes surveyed reported brushing their teeth twice a day, and 40% said they flossed every day. That’s much higher than the general population of the UK, where only 75% brush twice daily and 21% floss every day.
There are many reasons why brushing is not enough for these athletes. One is diet. Athletes have a different diet than most people. They rely on high carbohydrate intake to give themselves energy when training or competing. When competing or training, they rely on foods and drinks that are high in sugar, like acidic sports drinks or sticky nutrition bars. Oral bacteria thrive on the sugars in these foods, which give them more fuel to attack teeth.
Dehydration is another problem. A dry mouth is more vulnerable to decay and disease. Athletes dry their mouths out when they’re breathing hard, especially in sports where forward motion moves air over the teeth like cycling or running.
Psychological components also contribute to tooth decay in athletes. Many of the athletes noted that pre-competition jitters make them throw up. This exposes teeth to stomach acids, eroding them and making them vulnerable to decay. Teeth clenching and grinding related to nerves and exertion can also put athletes’ teeth at risk.
As you can see, the problem is complex, and it takes more than brushing and flossing to ensure the oral health of these competitors. Holistic dentistry, though, can help.
We Look at the Entire Situation
Holistic dentistry provides a broader perspective on tooth decay that can help prevention, whether you’re a high-level athlete or work in an office all day. Oral hygiene is an important part of protecting your teeth, but it’s just one component of what has to be a multi-tiered strategy.
When you come into our office for holistic dental care, we will talk to you about your diet and other aspects of your lifestyle that can impact your risk of tooth decay. We’ll help you find more tooth-healthy ways to live so that you can enjoy better oral health with less need for restorative dentistry. We also offer noninvasive treatments like ozone for your teeth to help you avoid future cavities. That way you can put off the fillings and crowns and just enjoy more naturally healthy teeth.
To learn more about the benefits of holistic dentistry in the San Jose area, please call (408) 354-5600 today for an appointment with holistic dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian at Top Down Dental in Los Gatos.