Are top athletes at special risk of periodontal disease and tooth decay? While you might think that being hit in the mouth by a ball or being pushed to the ground might be the greatest risk for those who play sports, certain habits prevalent among athletes can lead to the development of problems, including periodontal disease, caused by bacteria in the gums.
In a study from the UK, which compiled and analyzed data from 39 separate studies about oral health among top athletes, they found that 15 to 75% of study subjects had tooth decay that could lead to toothaches and infection. 36 to 85% had eroded tooth enamel that can lead to cracks and sensitivity, and 15% had periodontal disease.
Other studies of 300 Olympic athletes found similar patterns of oral health problems, with 18% of respondents indicating that their tooth problems are so bad that their ability to play were impacted.
Other research links dental problems with health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis
Sugar and Carbohydrate Loading can Promote Periodontal Disease
Why is there an apparent link between athletes and dental problems, including periodontal disease? One possible reason results from the diet common among athletes who are training for a big game. Meals are often high in carbohydrates which break down into sugars that coat the teeth. Unless athletes brush right after dinner, the sugars can form plaque during this time they are in the mouth and lead to decay.
Another issue that some researchers have found among sports participants is that saliva changes as a result of exercise to become more alkaline, which correlates with plaque development and other teeth problems. Also, exercise can dry out the mouth, which reduces the production of saliva which washes away some bacteria and prevents buildup of plaque on the teeth.
Another potential problem area lies in the habit of providing athletes with sports drinks to combat dry mouth, and rehydrate them after a tough workout or an intense game to help them maintain their electrolyte balance. The sugar in these drinks contributes to a similar buildup of sugar in the mouth that can cause long-term problems.
A Better Solution for Improved Dental Health
Some experts recommend that athletes be provided with healthy alternatives, such as hydrating them with water rather than with sugar-laden beverages. Electrolyte balance can be rebuilt with something that contains sodium, such as a handful of nuts and potassium contained in bananas and oranges. In addition, athletes might get the nutrients they need from a balanced meal that contains complex carbohydrates, beans and vegetables, rather than carb loading on pasta or some other heavy carbohydrate food.
For athletes, good oral hygiene that involves brushing their teeth after meals and flossing daily is especially important to reduce the risks of periodontal disease. When it occurs, an oral surgeon might first try antibiotics and then surgical techniques such as flap procedures to clean the roots of the tooth and repair bone damage. As these procedures are painful, prevention is the best medicine.
If you are an athlete concerned about periodontal disease and other dental issues, or if you play sports, contact Oral Surgery of Utah today for a consultation and treatment plan.