Eastman Dental Institute


New paper: the oral health and hygiene habits of elite athletes

20 August 2019

sports equipment

Despite reporting positive oral health-related habits, athletes have substantial amounts of oral disease. However, they are willing to consider behaviour change in order to improve their oral health.

The latest paper from our Centre for Oral Health and Performance has revealed the oral health and hygiene habits of over 350 Olympic and professional athletes. 

Researchers provided dental check-ups for sports men and women measuring tooth decay, gum health and acid erosion. They also asked them what they did to keep their mouth, teeth and gums healthy. 

Although the survey results indicated that athletes have better oral hygiene habits than the general population, their reliance on energy drinks and gels is still cause for concern. The dental check ups revealed substantial amounts of oral disease, as previously reported

Lead researcher Dr Julie Gallagher said: “We found that a majority of the athletes in our survey have good oral hygiene habits in as much as they brush twice a day, visit the dentist regularly, don’t smoke and have a healthy general diet.

“However, they use sports drinks, energy gels and bars frequently during training and competition, and the sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion. 

“This could be contributing to the high levels of tooth decay we saw during the dental check ups.” 

Encouragingly, the surveyed athletes said they would consider adopting even better oral hygiene habits to tackle this and an intervention study has already been piloted.  

Dr Gallagher said: “Athletes were willing to consider behaviour change related to daily plaque removal, increased fluoride availability and regular dental visits to improve oral health.

“We subsequently asked some of them and support team members to help us design an oral health intervention study, based on contemporary behaviour change theory and we will publish the results soon’. 

Many thanks to all the athletes who participated including members of of GB Cycling, GB Swimming, GB Rowing, GB Sailing, GB Gymnastics, GB Hockey, GB Athletics and GB Rugby Sevens plus England Rugby, Reading FC and Team Sky.

Read the full paper

Further reading: