Why do Olympians and top caliber athletes get an F for dental hygiene?


While they are the epitome of what the human body is capable of doing, Olympic athletes have one Achilles heel - their dental health. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) called for studies to look into the oral health of athletes after athletes encountered numerous dental problems at the 2008 games in Beijing.

Among the Olympians who had considerable dental problems that may have resulted in a ban from participating in competitions was Michael Jordan at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He was the top scorer on the U.S. team, which won gold medal at the time.

Meanwhile, British rower Alan Campbell had a wisdom tooth with abscess that threatened to prevent him from participating in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The infection spread to his back and shoulder, settling in his right knee which required surgery two months before the event. The infection ruined his training but did not stop him from placing fifth in the single-sculls finals. He feels he would have certainly gone quicker without the infection that kept him out of training for six weeks.

The IOC said that tooth erosion may be prevalent among Olympians because of excessive sports beverage intake. It could also be related to long hours of training and refueling only with acidic, teeth-eroding sweet drinks, gels, bars and even frequent meals. Dehydration from excessive sweating also lessens the production of saliva which is needed for tooth enamel regeneration. Teeth are at most risk from 16 to 25 years of age when people go to parties and neglect brushing. This is the age group for a lot of Olympians.

278 athletes from 25 different sports from Africa, Europe, and South and North America were involved in the study. Over 40 percent reported that their oral health bothered them while 28 percent said their oral health had an impact on the quality of life they had. 18 percent felt their oral health affected their performance and training with five percent reported tooth decay. 45 percent reported dental erosion and a huge amount of gingivitis was reported as well.

"They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth," dental director of IOC Paul Piccininni said, adding that hundreds of Olympians suffer from dental hygiene problems every year. Athletes also clench their teeth while exerting strenuous effort and grind it down. "You could land the Space Shuttle" on some athletes' teeth, said Piccininni. "Flat as a pancake. They have worn it down so much."

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