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 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 behaviours reported by Olympic and professional athletes
We investigated athlete-reported oral health behaviours, risks to oral health and potential for behaviour change. In elite sport, protection of an athlete’s health is a priority, however, dental caries, periodontal diseases and erosion are still common, and athletes with poor oral health reported negative impacts on wellbeing, quality of life, training and performance. Elite and professional athletes reported more favourable oral health behaviours but still had similar levels of oral disease to the general population. Athletes said they would consider simple behaviour changes including a reduction in the use of sports drinks, attendance for regular screening and enhanced oral hygiene. We used these findings to help inform the design of an intervention to improve/maintain oral health and reduce performance impacts. Our latest paper was included in the BDJ Big Impact Collection. It also received global recognition.
Read the full paper in the BDJ: Oral health-related behaviours reported by elite and professional athletes; August 2019
Behaviour change interventions to enhance athlete oral health
More recently, we completed a feasibility study with 60 Olympic and professional athletes, aimed at enhancing oral health behaviours. Read the paper in the BMJ: Implementation of a behavioural change intervention to enhance oral health behaviours in elite athletes: a feasibility study
This study was the basis of a chapter in Julie’s PhD thesis, which she successfully defended in February 2020. Read a profile of researcher Dr Julie Gallagher in MDDUS magazine
Oral health and performance impacts in elite and professional athletes
We completed this large study in 2016. It was the largest epidemiological study of the oral health of elite athletes ever undertaken. It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet over 350 athletes and their support staff at various training centres in England. We 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 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 in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology: Oral health and performance impacts in elite and professional athletes; June 2018
- Read our systematic review paper, in Sports Medicine, explaining how we chose an appropriate questionnaire to measure athlete-reported impact on performance
Oral health of professional 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 2019
Infographic: Nutrition and Oral Health in Sport: In Sport Time for Action
This provides a useful summary of the risks to oral health from participation in sport and consumption of sports supplements, along with appropriate preventive measures. Print it off and use as a handout or poster. Huge thanks to Dr Alan Rankin, Northern Ireland Sports Medicine Institute for the creativity. Download our infographic
Research: Oral Health-related Behaviours Reported by Elite and Professional Athletes
In August, we published the results of our study exploring athlete-reported oral health behaviours that add to the risk of oral diseases and those that can mitigate those risks. Read more
We were delighted with the global press coverage that accompanied its publication including on BBC News, in The Times, Guardian, Newsweek and the New York Post. It was one of the top-shared articles published in the last 12 months, as part of the BDJ Big Impact Collection We were also pleased to see the research referenced in Runner’s world magazine Professor Paul Ashley travelled to the Basem Winter Conference in Glasgow to share some of the results.
Podcast: Let’s Get Running
Let’s Get Running Podcast is run by international endurance runner and coach Shaun Dixon. Professor Needleman was interviewed to raise awareness about oral health and performance in recreational athletes. Listen now
International Sports Science and Sports Medicine Conference, 3-5 September, Newcastle, UK
It was a great privilege to be invited to this annual meeting organised by the distinguished sports medicine scientist Professor Ron Maughan, St Andrew’s University. The meeting is deliberately a small forum to generate lively and open debate and discussion over three days.
1st Symposium on Oral Health In Elite Sport, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, 24 August 2019
Professor Ian Needleman presented in this new initiative between the University of Malaya Dental and Sports Medicine Institutes with the support of the Ministry of Sport. It was a particular pleasure to share a platform with the Malaysian Paralympian, Ahmad Solihim (below). We wish him a very successful build-up to Tokyo 2020.COHP is also collaborating with the University on a study of oral health in elite athletes.
British Society for Oral and Dental Research, 3-5 September, Leeds, UK
Both Julie Gallagher and Hesham Metabdin enjoyed their visit to this city and presented their research at this international conference.
1st Symposium on Sports Dentistry, International Association of Sports Dentistry (IASD), Leipzig, Germany, 23 November 2019
COHP was delighted to support the IASD with a presentation by Professor Ian Needleman at this meeting. The event brought together a multidisciplinary group of experts in sports medicine, trauma, exercise physiology and oral health. We wish the IASD great success for the future.
British Student Elective
We were delighted to welcome dental student Morgan Rees to the COHP for a couple of days in the summer as part of his student elective into oral health in sport. Morgan has also been involved in supporting our dentists when they provide oral health screening for elite athlete teams. Read more
Oral Health Screening Should be Embedded in Athlete Health and Wellbeing
We are pleased to have provided oral health screening for elite teams in the run up to important competitions.
International Olympic Committee Conference on Prevention of Injury and Illness, Monaco, March 2020
The COHP has been successful in achieving acceptance of three research presentations and two workshops. Competition for acceptance of workshops is high with several hundred applications submitted.
Congratulations on Your Achievements
Well done to all the athletes and teams with whom we have been involved during this past year: Gloucester rugby, England rugby, GB cycling, GB rowing, GB swimming.
- Meet the team
- Dr Ian Needleman
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.Prof Paul Ashley
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, PGCE, PhD
Julie completed her PhD “Oral health of elite athletes and impact on performance” in March 2020 and has stayed with the team as an honorary research fellow. Julie also contributes to the Eastman Sports Dentistry MSc course as an occasional lecturer and regularly supervises research projects for students on the Eastman MSc Restorative Dental Practice course. Julie is a keen recreational triathlete, participating in events both in the UK and abroad.Hesham Matabdin
PhD Researcher Hesham Matabdin gained an interest in saliva and dental pellicle research after completing his M.Sc in Oral Biology from the Queen Mary, University of London in 2013. He had been lecturing dental undergraduate students before he became a member of the COHP as a PhD student at UCL Eastman Dental Institute in 2018. His current research involves assessing the potential of the salivary dental pellicle to prevent against dental erosion in elite athletes. Hesham is a general dental practitioner, a keen archer and swimmer.