Is It True That Athletes Have Terrible Teeth?

A tennis player drinks a sports drinkYou may have heard that rumor that athletes have some of the worst teeth, compared to their peers. It could be the sports drinks they’re consuming, or the constant sweat and exertion they put on their bodies. But there are ways to be at the peak of your athleticism and still have a brilliant smile to match. Read along as we explore what makes dental care difficult for some athletes, and what you can do to prevent periodontal disease and more.

Dental Care at the Olympic Games

After the London Olympic Games in 2012, the Associated Press delved into the dental care that was available for patient athletes at the games, and were shocked to find that the team of 30 dental care providers had over 100 visits from athletes per day for the length of the 17-day event. One organizer said they had athletes coming in as late as 10 p.m. some nights.

Paul Piccininni, the dental director for the International Olympic Committee, commented: “The oral health of athletes is worse than the oral health of the general population…considerably worse.” He cited a combination of sugary sports drinks, carbohydrate-heavy protein snacks, and teeth grinding when exerting effort to be the most damaging for teeth. Piccininni elaborated, “You could land the Space Shuttle [on some athlete’s teeth]…Flat as a pancake. They have worn it down so much.”

The article went on to describe how a few athletes nearly lost their chances to medal, due to extreme pain or bacterial infections from dental problems. While it’s reassuring that our Olympic athletes have access to top-notch dental care, especially at the upcoming 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, there are some tips that athletes at home can keep in mind to care for their chompers.

Are Athletes More Prone to Periodontal Disease?

So, is it true that athletes are more prone to diseases like periodontal disease? Well, it depends on the athlete and what they’re consuming.

  • Sports and Energy Drinks: During training, it may feel easy to reach for a power drink when you’re tired. They’re flavorful and refreshing, but water can be just as good. These sports and energy drinks are packed full of sugars that can feed the bacteria that cause periodontal disease.
  • Protein Bars and Other Carbohydrates: Similarly to sugars, energy bars, and other carb-heavy snacks do the same thing, especially when you don’t brush your teeth. Leftover food particles from your snacks can get stuck between your teeth and fester if left un-flossed.
  • Teeth Grinding (Bruxism): One of the biggest problems that athletes may face, especially those who don’t wear mouthguards during games, is teeth grinding. When you’re running long distances, lifting or throwing heavy objects, it’s natural to grit your teeth. However, prolonged gritting wears away at your teeth as they rub together.

Periodontal disease is commonly caused by infections in the gums from cavity-causing bacteria. These bacteria lay waste on your teeth in the form of plaque and tartar build-up, which can descend under your gums and cause inflammation, bleeding, and swelling.

It’s not to say that athletes are more susceptible to periodontal disease. Due to the exertion on their bodies and the foods/drinks, they’re consuming, athletes can potentially be damaging their teeth at a faster rate than others, especially if the athlete in question has a poor oral health regimen.

Quick Tips for Fellow Athletes

  • Water is most important: replace your sugary sports drinks with plenty of water. You’ll get the refreshment you need, and will also wash away bacteria, leftover food particles, and keep your saliva in healthy supply.
  • Brush and floss daily: Be sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss daily as well. This will get rid of the larger food particles and keep bacteria from laying waste on your teeth.
  • Talk to us! Here at PerioNYC, we want our patient-athletes to feel as comfortable with their smile as they are on the field. If you’re worried about your dental health while staying active, don’t hesitate to contact or consult with us about best ways to care for your smile at home.

We’ll be happy to schedule you for an evaluation or consultation with Dr. Susan Karabin or Dr. Edward Gottesman. You’ll be able to ask us questions, learn about treatments, and get your oral health evaluated right here in New York City at PerioNYC.

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