When you don't brush and floss twice a day, there's a lot more at stake than getting a stern talking to from the dentist every six months. If not, painful oral diseases can set in. As soccer (or football, as it's known across the pond) clubs in the United Kingdom have found out, it could actually get in the way of athletic performance. As the players of the world's most popular sport, this has huge implications.
According to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, professional footballers had lower rates of overall oral health than the average citizens in the U.K. This included things such as cavities, gum disease, enamel erosion, and the formation of abscesses. These maladies cause considerable discomfort, to the point where they affect the players' athletic ability as well as quality of life in general.
The researchers analyzed the oral health of 189 professional players and found that more than half experienced erosion of the enamel, 40 percent had decay, and 5 percent had irreversible gum damage. Nearly half of the players reported feeling bothered by their dental health, which manifested in different ways. Almost 20 percent of players reported that their oral health impedes their daily life (such as sensitivity while eating or drinking) and the pain was enough to affect the athletic performance of more than 7 percent of the players.
In the face of all of this information, one question becomes glaringly obvious: how does this happen?
"The causes of poor oral health include nutrition, unfavourable individual health behaviours, cultural norms and structural determinants such as access to oral health promotion and value of oral health within sport support system," the authors wrote in the paper. "Notably, more than three-quarters of participants reported attendance at a dentist for a check-up within 12 months, and this is corroborated anecdotally by the participating dentists. However, few teams integrate oral health promotion within overall medical care, and there is therefore lack of ongoing support and reinforcement of this health area for the athletes."
The sugars and acids in sports drinks could weaken enamel. Additionally, the players spend a greater amount of time breathing through their mouths than the average person does. When the mouth dries out, saliva isn't there to protect the teeth from decay.
The authors of the study recommend that teams make players' oral health a bigger priority in the same way that they promote athletic conditioning. It would certainly be in the team's best interest, as small distractions for the players can be the difference between winning and losing.
For those hoping to take their athletic game to the next level, getting a leg up on the competition could be as easy as taking care of their teeth.
(Header image: iStockphoto)