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Give your teeth a sporting chance as athletic study reveals surprising results 

Half of British elite athletes have untreated cavities and 77 per cent have gingivitis


Much has been talked about this World Cup of Mbappé, Griezmann, Modric or Kane; from the Pickford stops to the Neymar falls.

It is normal that in these competitions the good game is valued and non-sporting behaviour is penalized. After all, what we want to see is football.

However, coinciding with the start of the World Cup came the results of a study that should concern not only football club, but sports institutions of any discipline. It is a problem that can affect the performance of athletes no matter where they are in the land.

This is the research on this subject carried out so far with the largest spectrum of participants. More than 350 British athletes from eleven Olympic disciplines and professionals, such as cycling, athletics, rugby or football.

According to this study by UCL Eastman Dental Institute published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology at the end of June, nearly half (49.1 per cent) were found to have untreated tooth decay; 77 per cent had gingivitis, an early indicator of gum disease; and 39 per cent self-reported having bleeding gums while cleaning their teeth, a sign of gum inflammation. Only 1.1 per cent of the participants had “excellent” periodontal health.

The study showed that 32 per cent reported that these conditions had affected their sporting performance, along with their ability to eat (34.6 per cent), relax and sleep (15.1 per cent) and smiling and self-confidence (17.2 per cent).

According to Professor Ian Needleman, who leads the research, “every sport examined revealed significant levels of oral ill-health with the overall risk of tooth decay being higher for an elite athlete than the general population.”

The researchers value various causes. First, food. In general, athletes consume diets high in carbohydrates. The pasta or bread easily adhere between the teeth, providing the perfect setting for the proliferation of bacteria. On the other hand, Professor Needleman also assures that “in sports where there is a lot of airflow, such as cycling and running, breathing hard can make the mouth dry so teeth lose the protective benefits of saliva and there is existing evidence of lower quality of saliva with intensive training”.

Aware that this problem influences the performance of athletes, elite clubs are increasingly concerned about the dental health of their team members.

At the Artedental clinic in Puerto de la Cruz, its medical director, Víctor Cubillo, recommends not only paying attention to brushing after meals, but also attending to the food we have consumed to know if we should brush our teeth immediately after eating or do not.

“There are certain foods rich in acids that weaken the enamel. Instead of brushing immediately after the meal, the consumption of sugar-free gum may be a good option in these cases, “says Cubillo.

About saliva, the medical director of Artedental explains that “saliva is responsible not only for hydrating the mouth, but for controlling oral infections. Its lack causes the appearance of decay and having a more unprotected mouth. “

“Stress is also clearly a risk factor, with some athletes reporting vomiting before every race, as a result of pre-competition anxiety,” adds the study leader. “Vomiting includes acids that, in contact with the teeth, can also damage them,” according to Dr. Cubillo.

This is not the first study that links oral health with sports. In 2015, an investigation published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in which 184 players from the Premier League, Championship and League One participated, asserted that “37% had” active dental caries [cavities] “; 77% had at least one filling (and, on average, five); 53% showed “dental erosion”; 77% had gingivitis covering at least half their mouths; 5% had “moderate-severe irreversible periodontal [gum and jaw] disease”; and 45% were actively “bothered” by their oral health. A fifth of players said the problems reduced their overall quality of life, and 7% said they affected their training or performance. “

However, all is not lost. At Artedental they recommend staying as hydrated as possible during sports to increase the production of saliva, especially with water. The use of toothpaste or rinsing with fluorides can also be beneficial, as well as increase nasal breathing to the detriment of the oral to keep the mouth hydrated while playing sports.