Eastman Dental Institute


High levels of tooth decay and oral disease amongst elite athlete

21 June 2018

sports equipment

A new study published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology by UCL Eastman Dental Institute has revealed high levels of oral disease amongst elite athletes across a wide range of sports. 

Researchers screened over 350 sportsmen and women from 11 Olympic and professional disciplines, making the study the largest and most comprehensive ever conducted.

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. 

Professor Ian Needleman said: “This is the most methodologically robust study to ever evaluate oral health and associated performance impacts in elite athletes. 

“Every sport examined revealed significant levels of oral ill-health with the overall risk of tooth decay being higher for an elite athlete than the general population.*

“The odds of having tooth decay was also 2.4 times greater in team sport than endurance sport.”

“We recommend regular screening and new intervention strategies to reduce the incidence of oral disease and the knock-on effect on performance.”

Dr Mike Loosemore MBE, Chief Medical Officer, Team GB 2018 Winter Olympics and British Olympic Boxing said: “By introducing regular dental checks into the GB Boxing team we have had a marked reduction in time out of training and a noticeable improvement in dental health.”

All examinations were conducted by a single experienced dentist using clearly defined measures. 

Moving forward Professor Needleman is leading a study on effective behaviour change and interventions. 

He said: “We will be testing ways for athletes and their teams to fit oral health routines into their lives and training schedules. 

“We also aim to understand how personal behaviour can be influenced by the team so that we can come up with recommendations common to the whole team, as well as with personalised advice.

“We know that oral diseases are preventable by simple interventions: raising awareness and motivation to maintain good oral health, brushing teeth, regularly cleaning between teeth, healthy nutrition and regular dental check-ups.”

The researchers would like to extend many thanks to those who took part including 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. 

This study, conducted by the Centre for Oral Health and Performance, builds upon previous studies of professional footballers in 2015 and the athletes at London 2012.