How oral health is key to a winning performance

23 June 2021

One important area of preparation will be key to overall performance during this summer of sports – our athletes’ oral health.

While this link still remains widely unknown both in and outside sports, studies prove that poor oral health badly impacts athletes training and performance (1,2)*. Yet while athletes are being constantly tested and monitored in all other aspects of their health, diet and performance, oral health is often neglected.

A pioneer in this area, international oral healthcare company Sunstar, with brands including GUM, Butler and Ora2, supported the original launch of the Sports Dentistry Guidelines with the FDI (World Dental Federation), and holds worldwide events on the theme.

In a study with 302 athletes, 40% of them reported being ‘bothered by their oral health, while 28% also reported an impact on the quality of life and 18% on their training and performance. The study also found that of the athletes, 55% had dental cavities, 45% suffered dental erosion and 76% had periodontal disease. (1)

Top athletes have a particularly high risk of developing oral diseases for a number of reasons. For example, they require a lot of calories, which are often consumed throughout the day, for example, from sugary protein sports bars. While the large amount of fluid intake necessary for top performance is usually taken from sports drinks, which are mostly acidic and have a high sugar content. Athletes’ intensive training leads to increased mouth breathing and reduced saliva flow which causes ‘dry mouth’ – ideal conditions for bacteria to grow.

Sports-related stress is also an additional risk factor which can cause gum disease, tooth erosion, cavities, and teeth-grinding. While in aquatic sports, tooth erosion can be caused by a low PH in swimming pool water.

Oral health actually covers a range of areas wider than the mouth itself – from our teeth, gums and lips and tongue, to our chewing muscles, salivary glands, mouth and throat linings, upper and lower jaws, to the hard and soft palate.

Some ways oral health can impact an athlete’s performance:

Top tips to protect athletes and amateur sportspeople’s oral health to boost performance

  1. Make your oral health a priority, just like other parts of your training programme – and part of your daily routine just like your training, nutrition, and physio.
  2. 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.
  3. Ensure you visit your dentist at least twice a year for a complete oral health check-up.

Dr. Marzia Massignani, PhD, Senior Manager Scientific Affairs at Sunstar, has participated in many FDI athletes and oral health events, and says: “We are striving to raise awareness of the importance of good oral hygiene to athletes and to their overall performance.

With a whole line-up of sports this summer, it’s another good opportunity to get this message across, so that not only do more top athletes understand this performance link, but sportspeople worldwide do as well. So brush your teeth twice a day, clean between your teeth, and rinse your mouth after meals – and don’t forget your dental check-up twice a year.” For a copy of the Sports Dentistry Guidelines with the FDI (World Dental Federation) supported by Sunstar visit.


  1. Needleman I, Ashley P, Petrie A, Fortune F, Turner W, Jones J, Niggli J, Engebretsen L, Budgett R, Donos N, Clough T & Porter S. Oral health and impact on performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine.
  2. Gallagher J, Ashley P, Petrie A & Needleman I. Oral health and performance impacts in elite and professional athletes. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.