Good oral health boosts athletes’ sporting performance

Following simple oral health tips can lead to better performance among athletes, a new study has revealedFollowing simple oral health tips can lead to better sporting performance among athletes, a new study has revealed. 

Elite athletes who made basic oral health improvements reported significantly reduced negative effects on their performance.

In a study carried out by University College London, participants had considerable rates of oral disease – including tooth decay and gum inflammation.

In turn, these symptoms negatively impacted their sporting performance and wellbeing.

As a result, researchers introduced a programme aimed at educating the athletes about oral health.

Behaviour psychology

The study looked at 62 athletes from Gloucester Rugby team and two Great Britain Olympic teams – both cycling and rowing.

‘Poor oral health of elite athletes is common and is associated with negative performance,’ said lead author, Dr Julie Gallagher.

‘However, compared with other health and training pressures, oral health care is not a high priority in elite sport.

‘We therefore wanted to develop a programme which was aligned with the existing high-performance culture of the athletes and their teams.

‘Underpinning the study was health behaviour psychology. This included education, self-motivation, goal setting, and an easy-to-use toolkit, ensuring the athletes had a readily available opportunity to improve.’

Better sporting performance

In the study, each athlete underwent an oral health screening. They were then given a follow-up report with tailored advice and an oral health toolkit. The latter included flosspicks, a manual toothbrush and prescription fluoride toothpaste.

Additionally, they were told to brush their teeth twice a day, for two minutes each time.

After four months, participants were asked to complete an oral health knowledge questionnaire and undergo another gingival assessment.

Sporting performance was measured using the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Centre Overuse Injury Questionnaire (OSTRC-O).

Some key findings include:

  • Use of prescription strength fluoride toothpaste increased from eight (12.9%) to 45 (80.4%)
  • Use of interdental cleaning aids at least two to three times a week increased from 10 (16.2%) to 21 (34%)
  • The mean OSTRC score reduced from 8.73 (out of 100) to 2.73. This suggests a significant reduction in problems linked with oral hygiene and sporting performance.

Dr Gallagher added: ‘We believe that bringing behaviour change science together with an understanding of the athletes’ and teams’ priorities is key to making changes stick.’

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