We promote oral health in sport to enhance the performance, overall health and wellbeing of athletes. We engage in high-quality, cross-cutting research.
We collaborate with a wide range of clinical and academic disciplines and connecting with athletes, sport and exercise medicine/science professionals, sport organisations, sport funders, policy makers and industry.
We have extensive expertise in both clinical research and research synthesis (systematic reviews). As part of UCL, we collaborate with a wide range of clinical and academic disciplines and particularly closely with the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH). Furthermore, microbiology and materials science research at UCL Eastman is world-leading. We use these skills to design high quality research to investigate the issues of oral health and to develop effective interventions.
We have been awarded recognition by the International Olympic Committee as an IOC Research Centre for Prevention of Injury and Protection of Athlete Health as part of the collaborative bid with the ISEH and the National Centre for Sport Exercise and Health for the next four years.
Oral health amongst elite UK athletes
We are currently reporting on the largest epidemiological study of the oral health of elite athletes ever undertaken. Over the last year it has been a privilege and a pleasure to meet over 350 athletes and their support staff at various training centres in England. We have carried out dental exams and interviews with men and women from GB Cycling, GB Swimming, GB Rowing, GB Sailing, GB Gymnastics, GB Hockey, GB Athletics and GB Rugby Sevens; England Rugby, Reading FC and Team Sky.
Our findings have revealed high levels of oral disease amongst elite athletes across a wide range of sports. Nearly half (49.1%) of the athletes had untreated tooth decay and 77% had inflamed gums, an early indicator of gum disease. Many reported that these conditions had impacted negatively on their performance as well as their ability to eat, relax, sleep and smile. Read the full paper
Moving forward we are undertaking a new study on effective behaviour change and interventions funded by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine.
Oral health of profressional footballers
We completed a large study in Premier League and Championship football in 2014 recruiting eight clubs and 200 senior squad players. This was the most comprehensive study of oral health in professional football. Read the full paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine
Our study at London 2012 is one of the largest evaluations of oral health at a multi-sport competition (Needleman et al. 2013). A major innovation was the investigation of self-reported impact of oral health on training and performance. Key findings: high levels of oral and dental disease (45% athletes with dental caries, 55% dental erosion, 15% irreversible chronic gum disease) and a self-reported impact of oral health on performance in 1 in 5 athletes. The publication has achieved substantial impact within academic and media groups and is one of the most cited in the history of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Read more
Oral health of elite athletes: a systematic review
We provided the first state of the science summary of what was known about oral health in elite and professional sport . Key findings: Poor oral health is consistent across studies, particularly dental caries and erosion. The strength of evidence is limited by the few representative samples, limited validity of methods and low volume of data. Read more
- Latest news
Update: December 2018
We were excited to sign a research collaboration with Vedanta Biosciences, Cambridge MA, USA for studies on the microbiome in elite athletes. This is an innovative development as Vedanta Biosciences are pioneering modulation of the human microbiome for therapeutic benefit. We look forward to reporting initial results in 2019.
Health behaviour change for oral health in elite athletes
Dr Julie Gallagher was awarded a research bursary from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine (BASEM) to investigate a behaviour change intervention on oral health, behaviours and beliefs. The study is innovative in testing contemporary behaviour change theory and applying it across the whole team including athletes and their support network. Data collection will be complete in April 2019. We are always very grateful to the elite athletes and their support team who support our research by participating in the projects. For this current project, we have recruited athletes from professional rugby and Olympic squads. We are also grateful to Brush Link who provided us with devices for remote monitoring of oral health behaviours.
With the support of GB Rowing, we have produced three short films as part of the intervention study, which you are welcome to view. They reinforce coaching regarding effective tooth brushing, interdental cleaning and fluoride toothpaste use. Featuring Dr Zak Lee-Green, an Olympian rower and dentist, we also produced a short motivational film that reinforces the importance of good oral health for all athletes. Read more
PhD study, Dental erosion in the elite athlete
Dr Hesham Metabdin has been working on creating an erosion model with imaging using optical coherence tomography. Hesham is approaching upgrade to PhD status. We look forward to the contribution his work will add to explaining erosion in athletes. Thanks to the EPSRC and GSK Oral Healthcare and their funding
Nutrition and oral health in sport: Time for action
...was published in November in the British Journal of Sport and Exercise Medicine following our successful symposium, Nutrition, Oral Health and Performance, held at UCL in June 2017. The editorial and symposium are a landmark in bringing together sport nutrition clinicians and scientists and experts in oral health and we are deeply grateful to the co-authors for their valuable contributions. We encourage you to use the editorial in discussion with colleagues about improving oral health in sport. The BJSM has expressed interest in an infographic to accompany the editorial and we hope to have news of this soon. Read the editorial
Oral health and performance impacts in elite and professional athletes presents key results from our large epidemiology study of elite and professional athletes including a large cohort pre-Rio 2016. The study is a major element of Dr Julie Gallagher’s PhD research and reports a consistent message of poor oral health and self-reported performance impacts. We are extremely grateful to the Olympic teams, Team Sky and England Rugby for their support and participation in the research. Read more
Sports Dentistry: Principles and Practice
Many congratulations to the book editors, Peter Fine, Chris Louca and Albert Leung for this new book published in October. Dr Paul Ashley contributed a chapter outlining how to deal with sporting trauma in paediatric patients. Professor Ian Needleman contributed a chapter discussing oral health, the elite athlete and performance. Read more
Conferences and events
Symposium: Physical activity; protective or harmful to periodontal health?
Europerio 9, Amsterdam, June 22 2018. Professor Ian Needleman chaired a symposium to a full auditorium of more than 500 delegates to explore the emerging evidence for a two-way relationship between physical activity and oral health. He also presented data showing the association between elite sport and poor periodontal health. Other presenters included experts in periodontal inflammation and oral health sport research from the USA, Australia and Brazil. This conference also coincided with publication of results from the epidemiology study and we were delighted to achieve the greatest number of national and international media stories at Europerio 9 including The Times and the New York Times.
Symposium: Sunstar. Oral health: The achilles heel of athletes?
During Europerio 9 we were delighted to work with the Sunstar Corporation from Japan to organise a symposium to promote the oral health-athlete performance link. The symposium consisted of an interview session with Professor Needleman, Dr Mike Loosemore from the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health and the Dutch Minster for Dentistry, followed by a Q&A with the audience. Sunstar produced a spectacular video which you can view here
International Association for Dental Research
In July, Dr Julie Gallagher presented the results of the epidemiology study and outlined the intervention study at the annual conference, held in London this year.
Sports Dentistry: Oral Health in Sport MSc
This new, part-time, flexible Master’s degree programme, led by Dr Peter Fine is taking applications to start in 2019. The programme consists of year one, certificate; year two, diploma and year three, research project, leading to a Master’s in Sports Dentistry. The programme builds upon Peter’s highly successful and well-regarded Certificate in Sports Dentistry. Find out more
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- Meet the team
BDS, MSc, PhD, MRDRCS(Eng), FDSRCS(Eng), FFPH, FHEA
Ian is Professor of Restorative Dentistry and Evidence-Based Healthcare at UCL Eastman Dental Institute and Honorary Consultant in Periodontology with UCLH. He is a clinical specialist in periodontics at UCL and at PerioLondon and an Editor with the Cochrane Oral Health Group. His research interests are oral health in elite sport, improving clinical outcomes and the impact of oral health on general health, wellbeing and performance.
BDS PhD FDS (Paed) FHEA
Paul is academic lead of the Paediatric Dentistry Unit at UCL Eastman Dental Institute and Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry with UCLH. He is a Clinical Advisor for the Cochrane Oral Health Group and his research interests include diagnosis and management of caries in children and adults.
He has collaborated with Ian on the research programme in oral health and sport with recent publications including a review of oral health and sport in the British Journal of Sports MedicineDr Julie Gallagher
BDS, MSc, PCGE
PhD researcher Julie Gallagher worked in the Community Dental Service in West Sussex in 1986-2014 caring for children and adults with special needs. She gained a BSc in Health and Social Welfare in 1995, followed by an MSc in Community Dental Practice in 2000 and has been part of the team of tutors at the Eastman Dental Hospital School of Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy since then. An interest in education led to a PGCE in 2012. She is a keen swimmer, cyclist, runner and triathlete.