Athletes may win in the medal count, but they lose when it comes to dental hygiene. And this is more than a laughing manner.
Olympic village: The two-week home to world-class athletes and 10:30 p.m. root canals. That’s according to Paul Piccininni, dental director for the International Olympic Committee and a new AP report.
That’s right, the mouths of athletes are downright disgusting. Blame sugary sports drinks and gels—which generally speaking, may be worse for your teeth than Pepsi, says John M. Coke, D.D.S., professor of General Dentistry & Oral Medicine at the University of Alabama.
“The combination of high sugar and acid directly affects teeth enamel making it more vulnerable to decay. It also encourages acid producing bacteria to colonize, doubling the problem. This becomes a breeding ground for the bad bacteria, and can become a vicious circle of acid and decay,” he says.
Laugh as you may (“You could land the Space Shuttle on some athletes' teeth,” Piccinni told the AP), but poor oral hygiene is no joking matter. Of 278 visitors to an Olympic dental clinic, more than half had cavities, 75 percent suffered from diseased gums, and a fourth said teeth woes negatively impacted their quality of life, according to a study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Dirty teeth are also linked directly to poor nutrition and indirectly to more serious matters like cardiovascular disease, Coke says. The most acute implication though, is when an abscessed tooth leads to infection, Coke adds. Real-life proof: British rower Alan Campbell almost missed the ‘08 Games when an abscessed tooth morphed into an infection that spread to his shoulder, back, and knee, and required surgery before the Olympics.
Once Campbell started taking care of his pearly whites, he won bronze in London. “I'm not saying someone with perfect teeth is going to beat Usain Bolt," Campbell told the AP. "But myself with good dental hygiene versus myself with bad dental hygiene: The version of me with good dental hygiene will be the one that comes out on top.”
The recipe for making sure Campbell’s plight doesn’t become your own? Rinse with water. While it’s no replacement for a toothbrush, a quick swish can help to neutralizes teeth-ruining acids and promote saliva, which naturally cleans your teeth. And when you’re back from your run, brush thoroughly. The long you let let what you eat and drink—especially that sugary stuff—sit in your mouth, the more likely it is that bacterial will grow.