Oral Health and Olympic Athletes

We  hit the 100 day mark until the Sochi Winter Olympic Games on October 30th and I’m looking forward to seeing who will fill out the US roster for some of my favorite winter sports, including ice hockey and figure skating.

Michelle Kwan

Figure Skating/Michelle Kwan (2010) by Queen Yuna on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Athletes have to be at peak physical condition in their drive for gold.  We are used to seeing smiles on their faces when they land a triple salchow or a 720 on the half-pipe but how often do we actually think about the impact their oral care might have on their performance?  I’d estimate that number is pretty close to 0%.

A cross-sectional study at the dental clinic within the Polyclinic in the athletes’ village during the 2012 London Summer Olympics suggests that the poor oral health of athletes who attended the clinic resulted in a negative impact on well-being, training, and performance.  The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, concludes that oral health is an important element of overall health and that healthy promotion and intervention are ‘urgently required to optimize athletic performance’.

The mean age of athletes (n=302) who came to the dental clinic was 25.7 years of age, the majority were from Africa, America, and Europe, and they represented 25 sports with track and field, boxing, and field hockey being the most common. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly half reported not attending a check-up or hygiene visit within 12 months of the Games and nearly 9 % reported they had never received dental care.

The authors provided the following suggestions for clinical practice:  Oral health assessment should be part of every athlete’s routine medical care.  Oral health and disease prevention strategies need to be developed to facilitate the health, well-being, and performance of elite athletes.

Even if you are not an Olympic level athlete, taking care of your oral health off and on the field is important.  And Olympic caliber athletes are doing their part to help promote the message that oral health is important for all.

Shaun White and Scotty Lago

Shaun White and Scotty Lago – Olympic Snowboard Halfpipe, Vancouver 2010 (2010) by Lee LeFever on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

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