The Effect of Oral Health on Athletic Performance

Dental care and athletic performance

Dental Care may not immediately jump to mind when it comes to preparing and training for an athletic event, but a recent study shows a relationship between dental health and athletic performance.

Oral health is a key component of overall health and well-being and it should not be surprising that pain or discomfort caused by tooth decay or gum disease would cause a distraction or that could disrupt an intense training regime. Athletes may also experience a psychosocial effect from changes to their appearance, that could have an effect on their confidence. Additionally athletes may face unique challenges, such as immune suppression due to intense exercise, that could put them at increased risk for gum disease and other dental health problems. Athletes may also face increased inflammation and reduced immune function from a diet that includes frequent carbohydrate intake.

Studies on Olympic athletes, give strong indications about the affect of poor dental health on performance. One such study lead by Professor Ian Needleman of the University College London Eastman Dental Institute, involved 302 athletes from the 2012 London games. The results showed that 55% of the athletes showed signs of tooth decay, while 42% said they were “bothered by oral health issues” and 28% said it affected their quality of life. Ultimately 18% of the athletes indicated that they believed poor oral health was affecting their training or performance in a negative way.

“If we are going to help them optimize their level of performance, we need to concentrate on oral health promotion and disease prevention strategies to facilitate the health and well-being of all our elite athletes.”

Professor Ian Needleman

Common dental health problems are treatable and preventable with regular cleaning and dental examinations.


Oral health and elite sport performance – British Journal of Sports Medicine

Poor oral health affects Olympic athletes’ performance – Marie Ellis

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