With the Olympics now wrapped up in Brazil, we saw our fair share of athletes making contact with one another... from swinging elbows in basketball, flying field hockey sticks, nasty cycling crashes and, of course, direct hits from boxing gloves. It’s imperative that the athletes from all over the world learn to protect their teeth. Especially if they want that golden smile when being honored on the podium. Let’s examine how they do it. First things first. The mouth is a “window” to the rest of the body, and recent studies have shown a direct connection between poor oral health and systemic diseases as well as conditions like diabetes, pneumonia, and even heart ailments. So it is quite clear that a healthy body needs a healthy mouth as a starting point. According to an IOC report, the International Olympic Committee makes the best efforts possible to preserve the health and safety of the athletes during both training and competition. However, studies at a number of previous Olympic Games have shown that, while the athletes exhibit the highest levels of training and conditioning, their dental health was often found to be at or below the average level for the general population. There are many possible reasons for this. Often, the financial costs of obtaining proper dental care are difficult to manage within the limited budget of an athlete. Athletes with their busy schedules may find it difficult to schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings. Not to mention, necessary treatments like fillings or removal of wisdom teeth might be delayed for fear of interfering with training schedules or competition. What can they do?
- Don’t put it off: always visit your dentist for regularly scheduled appointments. Get x-rays, have cavities fixed and don’t go too long without having empty spaces left by missing teeth examined by a periodontal specialist.
- Brush. Brush. Brush. Make sure that you brush and floss just before bed – oral bacteria love to use any sugars or other food left on the teeth overnight to create the harmful acids that cause cavities.
- Practice proper nutrition and avoid foods and beverages that can promote cavities or gum disease. Be careful when consuming sport beverages since the sugars and acids in these drinks can promote both cavities and erosion of the teeth. If you do use these drinks, try diluting them with water or drinking bottled water afterwards.
- Stay hydrated. Teeth need minerals from saliva in order to repair microscopic cavities that regularly develop. A dehydrated athlete does not produce enough saliva to allow this repair process to occur, and larger cavities or erosion areas can develop.
- Wear protection for your teeth. For athletes in contact sports, wear a properly fitting, custom-made mouthguard fitted by a professional. Avoid store-bought or “boil-and-bite” guards that not only fit poorly but also offer significantly less protection.