Eastman Dental Institute


Sport Fit with Sound Teeth - what do athletes know and think about their oral health?

Jolanda Gortzak, Dental Hygienist and member of our Oral Health in Sport Network investigates oral health behaviours among rowers in Amsterdam.

Pascalle Fijnvandraat and Max de Bruijne
In 2014, in a study* by Professor Ian Needleman and colleagues, it was shown that athletes have poor oral health that may be not only related to frequent carbohydrate intake, acidic sport drinks, impairment of host responses due to dehydration, mouth drying and decreased immune function due to intensive training, but also to poor oral health behaviour and lack of effective health promotion and preventive support.


My oral health project aimed to promote awareness and behavioral change in oral self-care among student- and (elite) athletes. The slogan, ‘Be healthy, Eat well and Sport fit ‘, was adopted. 

We started by surveying at a rowing association in Amsterdam called ‘Okeanos’, where both students and professional rowers -who participate at the Olympic Games- are actively involved members.

Two athletes, Pascalle Fijnvandraat and Max de Bruijne (pictured above) were willing to give their opinion:

Pascalle Fijnvandraat, a student rower and hockey player and Max de Bruijne, a professional football player who combines his sport with his studies, were digital interviewed on a voluntary base. The open questions were about oral health in general, about their own oral health and their oral self-care. We also asked what they know about the association between healthy teeth and overall health and the relation to sport as athletes. It is also important to know if they, as athletes, visit the dentist or dental-hygienist.

For both athletes a healthy mouth means that they take good care on a daily base by brushing their teeth twice a day and use floss or toothpicks a few times a week. Pascalle’s opinion about healthy teeth is that there are no cavities, inflammation or other problems. For Max, it means no gum bleeding after using toothpicks and also white teeth are part of his definition of a healthy mouth. 

The association between the relationship from a healthy mouth, overall health and sport, Pascalle reported, that it can cause problems or illness for the rest of your body which may have a negative effect on your sport performance. Max replied, that he doesn't know much about this topic, but a healthy mouth ensures that you can eat without pain and he wouldn't be surprised if it has a little relationship with sport performances. They both say they visit the dentist and dental-hygienist twice a year.      
It’s remarkable and reassuring to see that both athletes are aware of a healthy mouth and the effect it could have on their overall health and sport performances, but how and to what extent is not known. Their health behaviours to promote optimum oral health-care do not correspond to what is important from a dental professional perspective for (elite) athletes. Therefore, with the project “Sport fit with Sound Teeth” and the support of Yvonne Buunk-Werkhoven, a behavioural scientist, I aim to contribute scientific knowledge on the psychology of oral health and oral health behaviour, as a scientific basis for the development of effective interventions among the (elite) athletes and the (para) medical team.

References: I. Needleman, P. Ashley, P. Fine, F. Haddad, M. Loosemore, A. de Medici, N. Donos, T. Newton, K. van Someren, R. Moazzez, R. Jaques, G. Hunter, K. Khan, M. Shimmin, J. Brewer, L. Meehan, S. Mills & S. Porter.  Oral health and elite sport performance. British Dental Journal volume 217, pages587–590(2014).


About the author

Jolanda Gortzak, Dental hygienist
I am an independent and a self-employed dental-hygienist of Oral-Vision at the Olympic Stadium of Amsterdam. My research: 'Promoting toothpicks in fitness-sport centers may contribute to optimal oral self-care and a healthy lifestyle’, showed me that more information is needed about oral health care and the relation to sport. My passion is to challenge myself every time, one of the qualities of a (elite) athlete as well. With this oral health care project, I challenge myself.