Eastman Dental Institute


Centre for Oral Health and Performance

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

London 2012

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: May 2018

New position statement
The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) recently asked us to update the position statementOral Health in Sport that they commissioned from us in 2014. The statement includes a six-point guide for sports and exercise practitioners. Read the new statement >> 

What is evident in the update is just how much progress our team has made with research in this field leading to real impact. The original document highlighted that the prevalence of oral diseases was poorly understood with much uncertainty. In the revision, we can now highlight our data and publications including more than 800 elite athletes, showing high levels of disease, with consistent data and common self-reported performance impacts. Therefore, our research has achieved much greater certainty about both the nature and the scale of the problem which informs this position statement. Furthermore, we have linked to two, open-access, resources that we have produced; an evidence-based toolkit for oral health in elite sport and a guide for dental screening in sport. The research was also key to the inclusion of a section that we wrote on oral health being included in the medical information for Team GB for athletes competing at Rio 2016.

The authors include Dr Mike Loosemore who is Lead Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the ISEH and Lead Sport Physician at the English Institute of Sport and has been awarded an MBE for services to sports medicine in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Our editorial resulting from the Nutrition, Oral Health & Performance Symposium held in July 2017 has been accepted for publication in The British Journal of Sports Medicine and should be available online very soon. We are also delighted that the BJSM has also prioritised the article for an infographic. We’ll put more news on the website when it is published.

The Vorsprung Project picks Professor Needleman's brains about oral healthcare. Read more

Professor Ian Needleman has been busy engaging with audiences from the sports and exercise community. These include the annual conference of the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine,Loughborough University, September 2017, the International Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference at Newcastle University, December 2017 and the UCL Eastman Sports Dentistry alumni meeting April 2018. Professor Needleman will also be presenting at Europerio 9, Amsterdam, 20-23 June. The presentations include chairing a symposium: Physical activity: Protective or harmful to periodontitis? and a presentation of our most research findings.

In July the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) General Session and Pan European Regional Congress comes to London and Julie Gallagher is looking forward to presenting at this large international event.

We are finalising the next project: an intervention study which aims to improve oral health behaviours and oral health in elite and professional athletes. We are very excited to be working with athletes and members of the support team from various elite and professional sports. Congratulations to Julie Gallagher who was awarded one of only four research bursaries by the British Association for  Sport and Exercise Medicine to assist with the study Read more>>

New PhD research student.
We are delighted to welcome Dr Hesham Matabdin who commenced his PhD studies with us in January. Hesham obtained his B.D.S from Riphah International University, Islamabad, Pakistan and followed this with a MSc. Oral Biology from Queen Mary University of London. The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and GSK and will investigate the natural history and processes involved in dental erosion in athletes. We are collaborating with Dr Laurent Bozec, Department of Biomaterials, Eastman Dental Institute and Professor Peter Wilde, Food and Health Programme, Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich.

MSc in Oral Health in Sport
This proposed degree is currently progressing through the various committee stages at UCL spearheaded by Dr Peter Fine. As part of the process a questionnaire has been designed and distributed to potentially interested individuals to gauge the level of interest and develop some market research on the feasibility of running such a programme. Of the 52 responses to the survey, 75% expressed an interest in doing the master’s degree and approximately 50% were aware of career opportunities in Sports Dentistry. The plan at the moment is, assuming all the stages of programme development are agreed by UCL, to launch the Master’s degree in Oral Health in Sport-Sports Dentistry in September 2019.

Sports news
We continue to be enthusiastic participants in our chosen sports. Julie Gallagher was unable to resist the opportunity to be a late entrant in the Brighton marathon on 15 April 2018. Ian ran the iconic Highland Fling trail ultra through spectacular Scottish scenery on 28 April 2018.

Future events
The UCL Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH) has its excellent annual fun run in London’s Regent’s Park on 24 June this year. Come along and join in the 5K or 10K – let us know if you are planning to be there. Find out more >>

Your activities
Please let us know if you have any news regarding oral health in sport activities that we can publicise on the website.

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Meet the team

Professor Ian Needleman
Dr Ian Needleman

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.

Dr Paul Ashley

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 Medicine

Julie Gallagher
Dr Julie Gallagher

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.