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Poor Oral Health Impairs Athletic Performance, Olympic Study

Update Date: Sep 30, 2013 06:59 PM EDT

Poor oral health may negatively affect athletic performance, according to a new study.

New research reveals that many of the athletes who completed at the London 2012 Olympic Games had poor levels of oral health, and 18 percent of athletes surveyed said their oral health was negatively affecting their performance.

The study involved 302 athletes at the Dental Clinic in the London 2012 athletes' village.  Researchers said the athletes represented 25 different sports, with 95 competing in track and field, 28 competing in boxing and 31 playing hockey. Researchers said the athletes were given a systematic oral health check-up before being asked to give a personal assessment of the impact of oral health on their quality of life and athletic training and performance.

The study that 55 percent of athletes suffer from tooth decay, of which 41 percent was irreversible. Researchers found that more than three quarters of all participants had gingivitis, with 15 percent shoring signs of periodontitis, an irreversible gum infection in the soft tissue around the teeth.

Researchers found that 42 percent of athletes in the study were "bothered by oral health" issues with 28 percent saying that it affected their quality of life. The study revealed that 18 percent of athletes said that they believed poor oral health was negatively affecting their training or performance levels.

The study revealed that 46.5 percent of athletes had not gone to the dentist in the previous year, while 8.7 percent said they had never been to the dentist.

"Oral health is important for wellbeing and successful elite sporting performance. It is amazing that many professional athletes - people who dedicate a huge amount of time and energy to honing their physical abilities - do not have sufficient support for their oral health needs, even though this negatively impacts on their training and performance," lead author Professor Ian Needleman of the UCL Eastman Dental Institute said in a news release.

"Oral health assessment should be part of every athlete's routine medical care. If we are going to help them optimize their level of performance we need to concentrate on oral health promotion and disease prevention strategies to facilitate the health and wellbeing of all our elite athletes," he added.

The findings are published in the journal British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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