Optimising Sporting Performances with help from your dentist

What does it take to help an elite athlete to stay at the top of their game?  Good nutrition, a balanced training regime, access to the best physiotherapists and osteopaths?  Well if a recent (April 2014) conference in London is anything to go by the need for good oral hygiene and a trip to the dentist should be added to the list.

In September 2013 a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed low levels of oral health among London 2012 athletes, with 40% being bothered by oral health problems and 18% reporting that dental problems impacted on training and performance.  The study was carried out on a cross-section of athletes competing at the games.

Now the oral health and performance in sport conference in London has backed up those findings with a series of discussions and presentations on the impact of oral hygiene on sporting performances.  Whilst good dental hygiene won’t turn a novice into an elite athlete, for those at the pinnacle of sport where the slightest edge can make the difference between Olympic Gold and also-ran, it seems as though dental hygiene is a contributing factor.  And the effect is not just confined to those who seek to be ‘the fastest’.  The British boxing team have already noticed a difference since regular dental checks were introduced as part of the training regime.

But good dental hygiene is not just for athletes.  Type 2 diabetes and heart problems have also been linked to poor oral health, making a visit to the dentist a potentially life-saving activity.  Plaque can lead to gum inflammation and studies have shown that inflammation anywhere in the body, including in mouth and gums, can have a detrimental effect on arterial health.  So studies have concluded that regular brushing and attention to oral hygiene including trips to the dentist can help to protect heart health.

But as the British boxing team managers found, a visit to the dentist is not on many people’s priority list.  It is important therefore to ensure that making appointments and contact with the dental surgery is made as easy as possible.   Systems such as online booking and automated appointment reminders can make a huge difference to attendance rates.

Whilst a nagging toothache is a strong enough reminder that something needs to be done, without pain our impulses to make a check up appointment are fleeting at best.   Being able to log in via PC or smart phone and book on the spot enhances the chances of capturing that fleeting idea.  And for surgeries which operate a ‘book your next appointment now’ system for those who do visit, an automated appointment reminder will help to decrease no-shows from those who forget the appointment that they made six months ago.

Talking about the boxing experience, Dr Mike Loosemore said of the enforced dental checkups: “They may not appreciate it now, but hopefully they’ll appreciate when they’ve got a gold medal round their neck in Rio.” For non-athletes the reward may well be a lessening of the chances of heart or diabetes problems in later life.