Olympic Athletes Bomb on Oral Hygiene

Researchers find gum disease and cavities common among athletes at 2012 London Games

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Bryn Lennon / AFP / Getty Images

Japan's Fumiyuki Beppu leads the breakaway during the Men's Road Race Road Cycling on day 1 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 28, 2012 in London, England.

Olympic athletes are at the top of their game when it comes to their physique, but not so much for oral hygiene. New research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that elite athletes tend to have more cavities, tooth erosion and gum disease than others of a similar age.

Surveying athletes who attended the dental clinic at the 2012 Olympic Games in London for free check-ups and mouth guards, researchers at the University College London (UCL) found a fifth of visitors said that oral health affected training and performance and more than 40 percent were “bothered” by their oral health. Of the 302 athletes surveyed (with data available for 278) from Africa, the Americas and Europe, more than half of respondents had cavities, including 45 percent with dental erosion and 76 percent showed signs of gingivitis.

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Though the data is confined to only those visiting the Olympic Village clinic, the researchers assert that the findings are consistent with previous studies. Olympic athlete’s high intensity performance includes consuming large amounts of carbohydrates as well as sugary drinks. Ian Needleman, a professor at UCL who spearheaded the study, said that extreme training places stress on the immune system leaving athletes at high risk of oral disease, the BBC reports. The study also notes that half of the athletes examined had not had a dental examination the year before.

Previous research found that inflammation elsewhere in the body can affect the likelihood of injury as well as recovery time. Researchers have even linked a higher risk of heart attacks among people who do not brush their teeth twice a day (which results in inflamed gums).

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