Whether you are a professional or amateur athlete, or even if you are a mere fan of your local team, you will be interested to know that there is a relationship between oral health and sports practice. Although other physical problems cause more attention, dental problems are frequent in elite athletes.
We know that for an athlete, nutrition is almost as important as their training. The high consumption of carbohydrates and energy drinks is related to caries, even higher when associated with poor hygiene habits. Immunological changes caused during the practice of sports, or the stress and tension inherent in competitions which can also be reflected in the form of bruxism (teeth screeching at night) also affect in this sense. In one way or another, there are numerous investigations that show the relationship between having a healthy mouth and the best sports performance.
In a study published in 2011, 30 players of the F.C. Barcelona were analyzed during 3 seasons and it was found that they suffered from dental trauma, active cavities and gingival problems, which were related to physical condition problems of those affected More recently, other soccer players, including Manchester United players, have participated in similar studies, finding high rates of tooth decay and wear (present in approximately 40% of players), trauma and gingival diseases.
Last year the Spanish Society of Periodontics and Osseointegration (SEPA) reported that "among the players of the F.C. Barcelona a relationship between the rate of bacterial plaque and the number of injuries has been identified". In another study of the British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted on British professional footballers 77% of those evaluated had gingivitis and 80% suffered periodontal disease.
"A chronic infection, advanced caries or periodontal disease can cause injuries anywhere in the body. The bacteria travel through the bloodstream and can reach muscles, joints, bones and in more serious cases the heart"- says Dr. Pardiñas López, specialist in Periodontics and Oral Surgery.
Footballers from all over the world are beginning to raise awareness of oral care as a tool to improve the quality of life and sport performance. With this objective, the students of La Masía have begun to receive talks organized by the SEPA and the F.C. Barcelona Foundation in which they are informed about oral pathologies and their prevention.
These problems not only affect football players. In 2013 Needleman et col.; analyzed 278 Olympic athletes at the London Olympics and reported that 18% of athletes admitted that their oral problems had affected or were negatively affecting their athletic performance. Similar results were obtained two years later by Ashley et col. evidencing again the negative influence of oral problems on sports results.
If dental check-ups are important for all patients, it could be said that in athletes they are essential. For this reason, it is as important for athletes to keep fit, control diet and cardiovascular health, as to control the status of mouth and teeth.
Can the position of the teeth affect sports performance?
The lack of teeth or their malposition can lead to problems in the chewing muscles and digestive problems caused by the difficulty of chewing food correctly.
"What is probably not so well known is the close relationship that malocclusions have with the control of body posture and muscle problems. It is therefore important to perform a correct craniofacial diagnosis of the patient to detect this type of malocclusion problems and be able to perform the necessary treatment to correct it. "- says Dr. López Prieto, specialist in Orthodontics and Occlusion.
Pau Gasol himself, one of the first demands he had to face when he was transferred to Los Angeles Lakers, was to undergo orthodontic treatment to correct his dental crowding (and associated malocclusion) to avoid problems of balance and continuous discomfort in the neck and back that dragged from its passage through the Memphis Grizzlies.
Another example of this was the frustrated signing of the football player Aly Cissokho to Milan, in which the doctors concluded in their examination that the player suffered a malocclusion and this could have bony and muscular consequences on the spine, increasing the risk of injuries.
Some of these claims may seem exaggerated, but all of them have scientific support. According to a research carried out by the Department of Physiology of the University of Barcelona with the University of Innsbruck (Austria), published in Neuroscience Letters and Motor Control, "there is a reciprocal influence between the trigeminal nerve and the vestibular nucleus, that is, those responsible for the functions of chewing and balance, and the masticatory and cervical muscles. When there is fatigue, the balance in conditions of maximum instability is significantly higher among individuals who have a bad dental occlusion”.
Prevention is another important factor. For this purpose, mouth protectors (sports splints) are made that not only protect the teeth from potential blows, but also help to avoid fractures and overloads that athletes suffer during stress situations.
"The functional overload associated with bruxism (teeth grinding) also produces muscle contractures, which can cause headaches and neck pain. Having the muscles of the jaw contracted makes difficult to have a good control over the movements of head, neck and shoulders, which will significantly limit the performance in some sports. "- exposes Dr. López Prieto.
These mouth guards relieve the muscles related to chewing and, by extension, the musculature of the back and neck. The potential advantage is also being studied by increasing the passage of air by facilitating a more advanced positioning of the jaw. Tiger Woods or Cristiano Ronaldo are some elite athletes who have already used some type of sports splint to improve their performance.
“Currently we also have a device that detects tooth by tooth the pressure and contact exerted when biting. This allows us to adjust the bite so that the loads are distributed in a uniform manner and that each tooth exerts a similar pressure and contact. With this we get a balanced bite that will prevent possible muscular and joint problems derived from it. "- says Dr. López Prieto
Dental check-ups are already an important part of general medical examinations before major signings in elite athletes, since poor oral health or malocclusions could affect the performance of the athlete.
From this season 2017/2018, at the Pardiñas Dental Medical Clinic, as a reference clinic of the Real Club Deportivo de La Coruña, will be responsible for the oral examinations of the players of the first team as well as future new signings, since the control of oral health has been incorporated into the demands of the club towards its players to in order to obtain the best possible performance.