Poor Oral Health Impacts Athletic Performance

Dentistry Today


Poor oral hygiene has a negative impact on athletic training and performance, according to Sunstar, which notes that maintaining a healthy mouth should be an essential part of athletes’ training programs and has partnered with the FDI World Dental Federation to launch Sports Dentistry Guidelines.

In a study of 302 athletes, 40% said they were bothered by their oral health, while 28% reported an impact on their quality of life, and 18% reported an effect on their training and performance. Also, 55% of the athletes had cavities, 45% had dental erosion, and 76% had periodontal disease.

Athletes are at high risk of developing oral diseases for several reasons, Sunstar said. For example, they require a lot of calories, which often are consumed via sugary protein sports bars. Also, athletes consumer a lot of sports drinks, which are mostly acidic and have high sugar content. Training leads to increased mouth breathing and reduced saliva flow, causing dry mouth and creating ideal conditions for bacteria to grow as well.

Sports-related stress is another risk factor that can cause gum disease, tooth erosion, cavities, and teeth grinding. In aquatic sports, low pH in swimming pool water can cause tooth erosion.

Just as athletics can impact oral health, oral health can impact athletic performance, Sunstar said. Poor oral health overall affects quality of life and well-being, which are key for optimal athletic performance, the company said.

Also, tooth decay and gum disease can cause and maintain inflammation in the body, which can negatively impact athletic performance. And athletes who have an infected tooth, mouth abscess, or some other painful condition could possibly perform badly or even withdraw from competition or training.

Sunstar offers advice for athletes:

  • Make your oral health a priority, just like other parts of your training program, and include it as part of your daily routine like training, nutrition, and physio.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste, ideally 30 minutes after eating, and clean between your teeth using interdental brushes, picks, or floss.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or rinse with water after meals and snacks when brushing isn’t an option.
  • Ensure you visit your dentist at least twice a year for a complete oral health checkup.

“We are striving to raise awareness of the importance of good oral hygiene to athletes and to their overall performance,” said Dr. Marzia Massignani, PhD, senior manager of scientific affairs at Sunstar. 

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