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It is generally agreed and well-established that Sports Medicine contributes to healthier athletes and better performance. Sports physicians and other sports healthcare professionals strive to keep the athlete’s health and fitness to an optimum level to ensure good performance.
Today, more and more focus is on winning and not just participating. That is why, in time where the words of Baron de Coubertin “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle” to improve the athlete’s performance does not have as much meaning these days where the important thing is to win.
Depending on the sport practiced, milliseconds can make the podium and the health of the athlete now has vital importance. For this there was a great incentive for research to bring improvement in athletic performance, talent detection and care that result in breaking records, medals and trophies. With the results of these surveys Sports Clubs, Associations and Institutions started to give due consideration to performance of their athletes thus providing its professional staff involved in the day to day of these in physiology, biomechanics, game analyst, nutritionists, physiotherapists, psychologists, doctors and dentists currently.
Due to all these developments, sports medicine has now evolved into a multi-disciplinary field and which has very recently started recognizing sports dentistry as a key element for athlete’s health. Sports dentistry is the branch of dentistry dealing with prevention and treatments of the pathologies and injuries of the oral cavity and the stomatognathic system related to sports activities. Since the last decade, different studies have been conducted in various national and international games on “oral health in athletes” and these studies are clearly proving that “poor oral health can have a bad effect on athlete’s performance”.
What does history say about athletes and dental care
- The history of Sports Dentistry happens concomitant with the occurrence of some of the major sporting events and refers to the time of the World Cup Soccer 1958, when the dentist Mario Trigo accompanied Brazillian soccer team during this competition and consequently in the Cups of 1962 and 1966. In 1958, in Sweden, Trigo performed 118 extractions on 33 players.
- As a dentist of Fluminense Football Club, Trigo reports had observed that athletes who waited longer to recover of concussions were precisely those who had dental infection. After elimination of the infection, athlete’s recovery was faster, optimizing treatment and facilitating the team squad.
- Aldo Forli Scocate was the dentist responsible for the oral health of Olympic athletes in 1992, performed 265 assistances. The average of 14.6 patients per day is high rate for a delegation with just over 300 members. As a result of the treatment during the Olympics, there was an increase of psychological situation of athletes and the improvement of muscle performance reacquired.
- The dental care at the Athens Olympics in 2004 was the second most searched service in the Olympics, behind only physiotherapy. The dental clinic was in the field of medical care area of the Olympic Village, where 28 dentists treated 658 patients.
- In Beijing Olympics in 2008, 80 dentists performed about 1600 treatments. When comparing the number of procedures crippling performed in Beijing Games with the 1968 Olympics, held in Mexico, there is a decrease in procedures such as tooth extraction, from 370 to 47 cases. This fact highlights the philosophy and acting of a minimal invasive dentistry, and more careful with the health of the athlete.
Relation of athletes, their oral health and performance
At London 2012 Olympic games, a study was done to evaluate oral health and the effect of oral health on well-being, training and performance of the participating athletes. Overall, the results demonstrated high levels of poor oral health including dental caries (55%), dental erosion (45%), gingivitis (75%) and periodontitis (15%). More than 40% of the athletes were bothered by their oral health with 28% reporting an impact on quality of life and 18% on training and performance. More of these types of studies have been conducted in last 10years which are showing similar results.
Effects of Athlete oral health on the performance
Athletes or people with regular participation in sports are more likely to have or develop dental problems such as tooth decay and dental erosion. Ironically, athletes have been the ones found to neglect their oral problems as compared to the attention that they pay to their general health. That is why, maintaining good oral health of the athlete is necessary to improve performance and to help prevent injuries.
Oral health is one of the determinants of life quality. There is a wealth of literature demonstrating impacts of oral diseases on the quality of life including caries, periodontal disease and pericoronitis. It is said that “Mouth is the mirror of the body”. A healthy mouth allows one to speak, smile, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey various emotions with confidence and without pain and discomfort. An athlete with a healthy mouth can eat a wide variety of food without discomfort, communicate with peers and concentrate well on the field and can practice the sport of his/her choice without disruption.
With clear psychosocial impacts of oral health, it would be surprising if training and performance were not affected in those athletes with poor oral health. Furthermore, subtle effects on training and performance could conceivably be highly important in an environment in which the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ is critical. Impacts on performance from oral diseases could arise from pain, increased systemic inflammation and impaired confidence and socialisation.
Thus, any dentist interested in becoming a sports dentist, must know the ways by which the dentist can intervene to improve the oral and general health of the athlete, thereby helping in improving the athlete performance. The presence of dentist in athlete support/healthcare staff is of paramount importance.
The topic of sports dental care needs large scale awareness so that the dentists, athletes and the sports healthcare professionals realize the importance of neglected oral health of athlete or the missing link for their better health and performance.