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Participation in the online debate on athletes’ oral and general health, which is part of FDI World Dental Federation’s Sports Dentistry project, is free of charge. (Image: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock)

FDI presents live debate on relation between oral health and overall health of athletes

By Franziska Beier, DTI
September 22, 2020

Prof. Ian Needleman, who is a member of FDI World Dental Federation’s Sports in Dentistry Task Team, is moderating a discussion on 24 September about the impact of athletes’ oral health on their general health. It will feature eminent dental experts and elite athletes and will be the first time that the topic will be addressed in such a format. The event is part of the programme for the Virtual Dental Exhibition, which is being hosted by the organisers of the Central European Dental Exhibition from 24 to 26 September. Ahead of the debate, Needleman shared some insights with Dental Tribune International.

Prof. Needleman, what are the most common oral diseases among athletes?
Our studies on more than 800 athletes showed that both dental caries and erosion are particularly common, affecting approximately half of all elite athletes. These levels are higher than would be expected in a similarly aged general population. Surprisingly, 20% also have periodontitis. What is also striking is that 20%–30% of athletes in our research reported that their oral health negatively affected their training or performance.

Are there any disciplines in which particular oral diseases are more prevalent than in others?
We found that athletes from team sports are twice as likely to have either caries or erosion compared with others. It is not clear why this is the case. However, the disease levels in individual sports are still far too high and might leave a legacy when these athletes retire from their profession.

You and your colleagues published a study last year which found that the participating athletes had considerably high rates of oral disease regardless of healthy brushing habits because of consumption of high-sugar sports drinks, bars and gels. How might one address this?
In our most recent study in high-performance sport, we were successful in engaging athletes and teams in changing oral health behaviours. We used behaviour change psychology with input from the athletes and medical teams. Of the participating athletes, 94% were motivated by a desire to avoid inflammation from oral disease affecting their bodies. Appearance was a further motivator. Interestingly, the improvements were also associated with reduced self-reported impacts on performance after four months. As with any group of people or patients, it is key to understand what motivates them in order to help them to accomplish change. Furthermore, finding ways to help athletes integrate oral health into their daily lives and training schedules is crucial.

Editorial note: The debate, titled “The impact of oral health on the health of athletes”, will be broadcast live on 24 September at 5 p.m. CEST. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions during the live event. All Virtual Dental Exhibition webinars and debates will be available on demand for one month. Dental professionals who would like to participate may register on the Virtual Dental Exhibition website.

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