Athletes from the 2012 London Summer Olympics had shockingly bad teeth, including lots of cavities, tooth erosion and gum disease, according to a new study from University College London.
"It's quite striking," said lead researcher Ian Needleman (via BBC Sept. 28), whose team published the report. "Our data and other studies suggest that, for a similar age profile, the oral health of athletes is poor."
The findings, which were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that 76 percent of the athletes examined had gum disease (including gingivitis and periodontitis); 55 percent had cavities, and 45 percent had tooth erosion.
The results came from examining the teeth and gums of 302 athletes who had visited a dental clinic in the 2012 London Olympic Village. The athletes came from Africa, Europe and the Americas and participated in 25 different sports, including track and field, boxing, hockey and swimming.
Needleman, a professor at London-based UCL Eastman Dental Institute, surmised that the high incidences of tooth decay, cavities and periodontitis were due to the sugary sports drinks and energy gels and other high-carbohydrate snacks athletes often consumed during training and competition.
The sugar from the snacks coat the teeth and gums and often stay there for hours, since most athletes don't pbrush their teeth in between events. Research indicates that people who don't brush their teeth regularly are more susceptible to heart attacks and inflammation.
Needleman was especially stunned by the findings because Olympic athletes take superior care of their bodies but seemed to completely neglect their teeth. He underscored that there's a connection between oral hygiene, athletic performance, and good overall health.
“Oral health is important for well-being and successful elite sporting performance,” he said. “It is amazing that many professional athletes — people who dedicate a huge amount of time and energy to honing their physical abilities — do not have sufficient support for their oral-health needs, even though this negatively impacts on their training and performance.”
Good oral hygiene is important and is a window to your overall health, according to the Mayo Clinic, which said oral bacteria and inflammation is associated with diabetes, endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimers, HIV/AIDS, and osteoporosis.