They can outperform us all on the playing field, but one dental authority claims most Olympic athletes are slower out of the dentist’s chair than your average Joe.
This is the assertion being made by IOC dental director Paul Piccininni, who told The Associated Press (h/t ESPN) that hundreds of Olympians find themselves suffering from dental hygiene issues on a yearly basis.
"They have bodies of Adonis and a garbage mouth," Piccininni said.
Piccininni, a decorated dentist and member of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, began treating Olympians as a member of the Olympic Staging medical staff in 1992.
His knowledge of athletes’ dental issues, however, appears to extend beyond this point. Piccininni claims that Michael Jordan "had a significant dental problem" at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that "could have kept him out of a game."
The AP reached out to Jordan for comment, but (unsurprisingly) received no answer.
So why athletes? Why would people who pay so much attention to their bodies suffer the most from dental hygiene issues? Piccininni cites a laundry list of factors in Olympians' daily regimens that are harming their teeth and gums.
Energy drinks, gels and bars—staples in the diets of endurance athletes—are among some of the chief culprits Piccininni counts as detrimental to gums and teeth. Sugary and acidic sports drinks are harmful and can accelerate tooth decay. Even sweating can cause dental problems, as dehydration slows the production of saliva, which aids in the regeneration of tooth enamel.
Part of the problem might also athletes’ financial situations.
"[Some athletes] know they’ve had a dental problem for three weeks or a month or three months, but they know if they can hold off until they get to the Games they get it treated for free," Piccininni said. "That’s fine. That’s one of the reasons that we’re there is because athletes don’t have the financial resources."
This may sound paradoxical, but not all Olympians are LeBron James-rich. Tony Clough, the man in charge of the dental clinic at the Summer Games in London, says dentists were dealing with patients around the clock in 2012.
"We had patients coming in at 10:30 at night to have root canals and things like that," Clough said.
A 2013 study—published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (h/t The Atlantic)—on the dental work done at the 2012 Olympic Games found that of the 278 athletes who visited the clinic, 55 percent had cavities, and three of four suffered from diseased gums.
Research into the Olympians’ dental hygiene issues continues, but it appears that one of the byproducts of world-class athletic training is extra strain on the teeth and gums.
If there’s one takeaway from this story, it’s something you’ve heard over and over: brush, floss and cut down on the sugar water. You don’t want to put that gold medal on and reveal a can of corn when the cameras start flashing.
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