Here’s the key graphic as discussed in my lecture for Colgate. Click the image to view full size.
I recently started playing ‘Dad’s football’, trying to recapture my youth and lose a bit of weight. Note to self: when your Apple watch says you’ve used 500 calories playing, don’t have a pint afterwards. It cancels all the good work out! Funny that as a dentist I’m aware of the sugar in my diet, but still need to change my habits!.
Talking of football, an intriguing article caught my eye in the British Journal of Sports Medicine a couple of months ago – its title was ‘Premier League footballers plagued by rotting teeth’, and was based on a research study carried out by University College London.
They’d examined the teeth of 187 top players, and the findings were really surprising. Around 40% of them had active tooth decay – decay that needs immediate action – against a national average for that age group of 30%. Worse than that, 50% of footballers teeth showed tooth erosion (when they start wearing away due to acidic food and drinks), and many of them also had gum disease.
Now, living in an area of Cheshire with more than its fair share of footballers, I know from first-hand experience that they’re not short of a few quid. Which is why it’s so surprising footballers’ teeth are so poor; after all, they can afford film star teeth if they want them.
But it’s not just footballers that have problems. Digging a little deeper, I found an article from 2013 that found similarly striking levels of bad teeth in athletes. These 302 athletes, from 25 different sports, took part in the London 2012 Olympic Games. In fact a fifth of them said dental problems had actually damaged their training and performance. It is understandable, given that toothache or extra sensitivity can affect how well you sleep. Also, infection in your mouth can lead to inflammation in other parts of the body.
Olympians are some of the fittest people on the planet – so what’s going on?
Professor Ian Needleman of UCL’s Eastman Dental Institute, the man behind both studies, puts it down to a number of factors. He believes that, to a great extent, it’s down to the amount of sugary energy drinks and acidic food sportspeople consume, along with a general lack of awareness of the risks of poor oral care and the fact that it’s not central to a player’s general health. It’s also true that during physical activity, as the mouth dries the protective saliva disappears.
Personally, I might add another: social background. Sports stars often come from relatively ordinary or even poor backgrounds (especially if they’re from third world countries). It’s a basic premise that poor people have worse teeth than rich people. In other words, while Premier League footballers may be fabulously wealthy now, a lot of the damage (and bad habits) may stem from their early life.
The difference between winning and losing at the highest level of sports comes down to marginal improvements. So the advice for elite athletes is simple: see your dentist. Regularly.
Coaches – make sure your team’s footballers teeth stay premier league!
For the rest of us, daily flossing, mouthwash and good brushing might not turn us into Ronaldo, but it’s a start…