The Impact of Oral Health on Athletic Performance

If sports professionals want to win, Oral Health needs to be a top priority for elite and amateur athletes alike. Poor oral hygiene severely impacts athletic performance and training. Whether athletes practice their sport as a hobby or professionally, their oral health is an important element of their general health and impacts their athletic performance.

There are many dental dilemmas that can arise such as:

  • Sports-related stress can lead to dehydration, dry mouth and teeth-grinding.
  • Energy beverages and certain foods and supplements contain added sugars and acidic ingredients, which can cause tooth decay and increase the risk of gum disease and tooth erosion.
  • A dental emergency (Trauma or Oral Injury) such as a gum abscess, infected tooth or wisdom tooth eruption.

“A healthy mouth contributes to a healthy body”

Dr Kathryn Kelly, President of the World Dental Federation, says that ‘poor oral health can have disastrous effects on overall health and athletic performance. We want to build upon this understanding and make sure it’s part of the conversation between oral health professionals and their patients.’

A survey carried out by 399 athletes during the 2012 Olympic Games found that:

  1. 55.1% had tooth decay
  2. 44.6% suffered from moderate to severe dental erosion
  3. 76% had periodontal (gum) disease, ranging from localised to generalised gingivitis
  4. Over 40% of athletes were ‘bothered’ by their oral health
  5. 30% said it impacted their quality of life
  6. 20% said it impacted their training and performance

Ignoring these impacts can have severe significant results:

  • Poor oral health affects quality of life and well-being, two key elements for strong athletic performance.
  • Tooth decay and gum disease can cause inflammations and infections in the body.
  • Some athletes are at an increased risk for oral and dental trauma and injuries when practising contact sports without proper protection. 

Dental professionals recommend wearing a mouth guard when engaging in contact sports. They also advise athletes to 

  1. Brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Visit the dentist at least once a year.
  3. Counteract the effects of acidic and sugary energy foods and drinks by rinsing with water afterwards.
  4. Opt for water to stay hydrated throughout the day.