Athletes must visit the dentist before the competition to maximise sporting success, leading medical experts reveal at The Sunstar Foundation Event

17 July 2018

Half of the athletes need to take extra care of their oral health according to the speakers of the Perio Link Night: Dr. Ian Needleman, Professor of Periodontology and Evidence-Informed Healthcare at University College London; Dr Mike Loosemore, Chief Medical Office to the British Olympic Boxing team and at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Dr. Marzia Massignani, Senior Manager of Scientific Affairs in Sunstar. This and other powerful facts were stated during the event organized by the Sunstar Foundation to discuss how poor oral health is related with lower sports performance in elite athletes. This event wasp organised in conjunction with EuroPerio9, the European Congress of Periodontology, that takes place every three years and which was celebrated from 20 to 23rd June in Amsterdam.

From left to right: Eliane Kuepers (host), Dr Loosemore, Dr Needleman, and Dr Marzia Massignani

Recent research has shown that elite athletes are struggling with severe oral problems, but, most of the times, these issues are not treated until they have pain. In fact, this collective is at high risk of having oral health issues. Why is that? According to the testimonies of several athletes such as the Boxer Anthony Joshua or the Cross-country skier Christian Zorzi[1], there are few causes: the intensive training and extreme conditions they push their bodies through, or the high intake of calories athletes need to take, usually provided by sports drinks with high sugar content. Also, most of the athletes experience dry mouth, which is a perfect condition for bacteria to grow.

It is not only a matter of beauty or a problem that only affects the mouth. Poor oral health is related to worse sports performance. According to Dr Needleman, “It is not only about having healthy gums, but it is also about your performance”.”

How does poor oral health affect sports performance?

Oral health impacts negatively on athletes’ performance in several ways. For example, as Dr Loosemore, explains, there is a direct link between missing training and untreated mouth problems. His patients at the boxing team miss fewer training sessions since oral health has become part of the monitored parameters.

In addition, there is a connection between the inflammation in the mouth and the inflammation in the whole body. This link has been widely studied, reporting associations between poor oral health and diseases such as diabetes. As a result, when oral health is improved, there is a positive influence on the overall health and well-being. According to Dr Needleman studies[2][3], 45% of the athletes are bothered by oral issues, such as dental caries or tooth sensitivity, and almost 20% report impact on their quality of life.

Education, awareness and behavioural change are the answer.

What can we do about that? When asking the experts all panelists agree: raising awareness, education and behavioural change . Oral care seems not to be a priority in top athletes medical check-up until they have pain, which means that sometimes is too late for preventing care, and further interventions are needed. Therefore, it seems obvious that oral care should become part of a top athlete routine, along with diet, physical therapy and training. As Needleman summarises, “the mouth must be placed back into the body”.

Also, it is essential to recall that not only top athletes should include oral care in their daily routines. Every day, there are more and more people getting involved in sports, so it is necessary for them to take care of their mouth as well. As stated by Dr Massignani, on behalf of the Sunstar Foundation, this is, indeed, a huge opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of oral hygiene. This is the moment to start applying a holistic approach to health.

Which are the basic recommendations to improve oral health, then? Brushing your teeth twice a day, interdental brushing and mouthwash, and dental check-up twice a year.

The evening finished with the Celebration of the World Perio Research Award and The Perio Link Award, two leading awards in the periodontology field, chaired by Professor Robert J. Genco, Director, UB Microbiome Center and Distinguished Professor of Oral Biology, Periodontics, and Microbiology. Finally, Ms Mayumi Kaneda, Director of Sunstar Foundation, gave the closing remarks underlining that since 1977, the Sunstar Foundation aims to promote better oral health around the world. Therefore, it is constantly searching for effective ways to impact on the population and supporting research on the oral care field.

About the Sunstar Foundation:

The Sunstar Foundation was first established in 1977 to actively promote better oral health. It’s under the umbrella of this foundation that Sunstar develops and manages most of its research, social initiatives and oral health awards and grants.

Therefore, it has several leading awards in the dentistry and periodontology field: the World Perio Research Award, which recognises the best papers related to periodontal disease treatment; the 1st Perio Link Award, a prize that aims to bring the scientific innovation closer to the people by summarising all the paper’s findings in a one-minute video; the World Dental Hygienist Award; and the IADR Karring-Nyman Sunstar Guidor ® award, to increase awareness about the importance of oral health and to recognise the best professionals and practices from all over the world. Finally, the Sunstar Foundation also has the AAP’s SUNSTAR Innovation grant to support innovation member research that aims to identify novel and innovative, evidence-based periodontal treatment approaches.

[1] Download athletes’ testimonials here

[2] Oral health and impact on performance of athletes participating in the London 2012 Olympic Games: a cross-sectional study. Needleman,1 P Ashley,2 A Petrie,3 F Fortune,4 W Turner,4 J Jones,4 J Niggli,4 L Engebretsen,5,6,7 R Budgett,7 N Donos,1 T Clough,8 S Porter9.

[3] Poor oral health including active caries in 187 UK professional male football players: clinical dental examination performed by dentists. Ian Needleman,1 Paul Ashley,2 Lyndon Meehan,3 Aviva Petrie,4 Richard Weiler,5,6,7 Steve McNally,8 Chris Ayer,9 Rob Hanna,10 Ian Hunt,11 Steven Kell,12 Paul Ridgewell,13 Russell Taylor14.