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Footballers fall foul with tooth decay

3 November 2015

Footballers fall foul with tooth decay

image credit: The Daily Record

José Mourinho may be blaming his Chelsea team’s poor showing so far this season on a national conspiracy against him, and it may not be too long before he blames tooth decay for his team’s underperformance, following a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study claims that the worrying levels of tooth decay and gum disease in professional footballers in the UK could be affecting their performance on the pitch. Nearly 4 out of 10 top-flight footballers in the UK have active tooth decay, while 1 in 20 (the rough equivalent of one player per team) has irreversible gum disease.

Led by Professor Ian Needleman, at University College London, the research team have called for regular dental screening to be a part of routine medical care in professional football, together with an increased emphasis on simple effective preventive approaches to help athletes look after their teeth and gums.

Melonie Prebble, secretary of the British Association of Dental Therapists, commented: “The dental profession is acutely aware that dental health affects quality of life and this study simply confirms and reinforces the message. The football industry must obviously now ensure players receive consistent dental screening, preventive advice and treatment to ensure their wellbeing. But there also needs to be a clampdown on sports drinks and an emphasis on rehydration and remineralisation via other, more health-friendly drinks.

“Perhaps, if oral health education and prevention were introduced and promoted in high level sports, it might have a knock-on positive effect on a wider scale, aiding the education of the general public. Dental teams need to identify those patients who are at an increased risk of developing dental caries and provide tailored advice on how to better manage the risk.”

In Professor Needleman’s survey, nearly four out of 10 (37%) of the players had active dental caries, and dental erosion was evident in over half (53%). Nearly two thirds (64%) said they drank sports drinks at least three times a week, although the researchers point out that the association between sports drinks and dental erosion ‘remains unclear’. Eight out of 10 players also had gingivitis; in one in 20 (5%) this was moderate to severe – and irreversible. Half the mouth was affected by gum disease in three out of four players.

Around one in six (16%) reported current pain in their mouth or teeth, while around one in four (27%) experienced dental sensitivity to hot or cold food/drink. Poor tooth and gum health ‘bothered’ almost half (45%) of them, and one in five (20%) said it undermined their quality of life. Around 7% said that it adversely affected their performance or training.

Despite his predilection for biting opponents, the study also did (not) indicate that Luis Suárez’s previous history did not directly lead to the development of caries. 

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