Olympic Athletes Have Great Bodies, Bad Teeth

Olympic Athletes Have Great Bodies, Bad Teeth

Olympic athletes are known for being in tip-top physical shape when it comes to their bodies, but apparently the opposite is true when it comes to their dental health. A 2013 study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at 278 of the 1,900 athletes who visited the dental clinic for Olympians at the 2012 London Games and found that 55% of them had cavities, 45% had dental erosion, 76% had gingivitis and 15% had serious periodontitis. When questioned, more than 40% of the Olympian patients said they were “bothered” by their oral health, 28% said it affected their quality of life and 18% felt it even had an impact on their training and athletic performance.

Paul Piccininni, the dental director for the International Olympic Committee, confirmed the study’s findings, stating that athletes’ dental health is “considerably worse” than that of the general population, even going as far as describing their oral state as “garbage mouth.” As an example, he cited basketball star Michael Jordan as having such significant dental issues during the 1984 Olympics that they could’ve kept him from playing in a game. (He would’ve provide details; medical privacy and all.)

There are numerous reasons why world-class athletes could have such bad teeth. First of all, because they burn so much energy while exercising, they eat and drink more frequently than the average person — and the more foodstuffs that come in contact with teeth, the greater the chance for tooth decay.

Moreover, the type of food and drink that athletes consume often comes in the form of sports drinks, energy drinks and nutrition bars, which can wreak havoc on teeth. It shouldn’t be surprising that sugar-filled energy drinks like Red Bull are bad for dental health, but many people would be surprised to find that some studies have shown that “healthy” sports drinks like Gatorade may actually erode teeth faster than soda. And, although nutrition bars are full of natural ingredients like nuts and raisins, their chewy consistency sticks to teeth, allowing bacteria to form and eat away at enamel.

Another factor contributing to tooth decay in athletes is dehydration caused by extensive sweating. The lack of water in the body means less saliva in the mouth, and one major function of saliva that few people know about is to rebuild enamel on teeth.

Additionally, athletes are prone to grind their teeth during the intense physical effort put forth, further compromising their oral health. The stress of playing at such a high level can also cause grinding that can further wear down teeth.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, their busy schedules can make it difficult for Olympians to find time to take care of their teeth properly — both on a daily basis and when it’s time for periodic visits to the dentist. And the winning ritual of biting down on gold medals can’t help matters, either.

On the bright side, the Olympics provides dental care free of charge to athletes. The clinic at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro will have eight dental chairs, plus x-ray machines, root canal specialists and surgical facilities. It’s such a welcome perk, in fact, that some Olympians forego visiting the dentist for months beforehand — even if there’s a need — so they can get dental care without having to pay.

(Sources: The British Journal of Sports Medicine, ABC News, WebMD, NBC News)