Whether you play sports, or know someone who does, you can probably relate to the hard work, sweat, and tears that go into these activities. But did you know that athletes could be more susceptible to oral health problems? It’s hard to believe that an Olympic athlete could be reduced by a cavity, but it could happen and it already has in the past. Take a look below at what damage that poor oral health can have on an athlete’s performance.
As the second-most common disease in the world, many patients assume that sugar is the primary cause of tooth decay. But in reality, it’s a combination of problems: acid waste from bacteria that turns into plaque, poor oral health care at home, and a high sugar/carbohydrate diet.
You may be asking yourself, what does tooth decay have to do with being an athlete? Think about all the stresses that athletes put on their teeth: gritting their teeth, sweating, not drinking enough water, having a dry mouth as they exert themselves, consuming sports drinks and energy bars, and sometimes being too exhausted to brush their teeth.
During the London Olympic Games in 2012, athletes had access to some of the best medical and dental care around. But it may come as a surprise to some that the dental care team at the Olympic village received around 1,900 visits over the course of the games. The Associated Press (AP) conducted a study to take a look at the reasons for the visits, and the study revealed that 55% were for cavities and gum disease, and 15% were for periodontitis. The AP interviewed Paul Piccininni, the dental director of the International Olympic Committee at the time, and he had this to say: “The oral health of athletes is worse than the oral health of the general population…Considerably worse.”
The AP cited that both basketball athlete Michael Jordan and rower Alan Campbell had suffered from dental problems that may have affected their performances. In Campbell’s case, his tooth decay was bad enough that it infected his shoulder and knee and required surgery, mere months before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
As you can see, what may seem benign at first can quickly escalate into a problem. And unfortunately, athletes may be more susceptible to the consequences, given their frequent activity, diet, and time.
So, whether you’re an athlete yourself, or enjoying the Rio Olympics this summer, don’t forget to keep up with your at-home dental care. Drink lots of water, and brush and floss at least twice a day. If you’re an athlete, consider wearing a mouthguard while you play, in order to protect your teeth here in Tehachapi.
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