You would think that an Olympic athlete would have access to the best medical and dental care available. Actually, that is not the case. In a poll conducted of all the athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, 42 percent of the athletes in the study reported poor dental health. Further, the poor condition of their teeth negatively affected their athletic performance.
How Poor Oral Health Affects Athletic Performance
You would think that something would need to have catastrophic physical effects to impair an athlete’s performance. Gum disease and tooth decay can both contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other health problems, leading to diminished physical stamina. Additionally, poor oral health can affect an athlete psychologically.
Remember that good athletic performance has a strong mental component. Top athletes not only need to be strong, fast, and skilled at their sport, they also have to be mentally on their game. The pain and discomfort of poor oral health can be distracting enough to distract an athlete during training. The embarrassment that some people feel about having “bad teeth” can affect the athlete’s self-esteem, which can affect his athletic performance.
The psychological component of dental health may sound like a stretch, especially since elite athletes are trained to work through the pain, but 18 percent (one in five) of the athletes polled indicated that their oral health negatively affected their training and performance.
What This Means for You
If poor dental health can negatively affect the performance of an elite athlete, imagine what it could do to your health and general physical fitness and stamina. The truth is, poor oral health can affect all aspects of your life.
- Missing, broken or discolored teeth can negatively impact your self-esteem and self-confidence
- Constant tooth pain can disrupt your sleep, making it difficult for you to concentrate during the day
- Pain can also lead you to dependency on pain killers
- Poor oral health can negatively affect your ability to chew your food and get proper nutrition
- You are at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes
Oral Health Solutions
Whether or not you are currently having tooth problems, if you have not had a checkup in over a year, you should make an appointment with your dentist. Your teeth might look fine, but there could be invisible pockets of decay, weak enamel, or gum disease that only your dentist can recognize and diagnose.
- If you don’t have dental insurance, you can find affordable plans at Healthcare.gov, through your local insurance market place, or directly from insurance providers
- You can also check with your current health insurance provider, which may offer separate dental plans at reasonable rates
- There are also companies that offer dental discount plans that can cover basic services for far less than you might pay out of pocket
- If you cannot afford insurance, you can also check with social service agencies or dental schools in your area to find dentists that offer services on a sliding scale, based on income.
In addition to getting a routine dental checkup, you should also brush your teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled tooth brush. Get a new toothbrush, or replace the head on an electronic toothbrush, every two months.
Anti-cavity and enamel-building mouth rinses can help strengthen your teeth and reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease. If you notice any problems with your teeth, such as pain, loose teeth, bleeding gums, or jaw pain and stiffness, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist.
All of these measures to help improve and maintain your oral health, can also help you maintain your general health and physical fitness.