Nearly four out of 10 UK professional footballers have active tooth decay, while one in 20 has irreversible gum disease, according to a large study of players published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
This poor level of dental health is affecting performance and wellbeing, and the sport needs to tackle this as a matter of urgency, say the researchers.
Researchers assessed the prevalence of tooth and gum problems, and the impact on wellbeing and performance, among a representative sample of 187 professional footballers from eight clubs in England and Wales. Five of the teams were in the Premier League, two were in the Championship, and one was in League One. The average age of the players was 24, but ranged from 18 to 39.
The check-ups revealed a high prevalence of poor dental health, most of which was preventable, despite the fact that almost three out of four players said they had had a dental check-up within the past year.
Nearly four out of 10 (37%) players had active tooth decay, and dental erosion was evident in over half (53%). Nearly two-thirds (64%) said they drank sports drinks at least three times a week, although the researchers point out that the association between sports drinks and dental erosion “remains unclear”.
Eight out of 10 players also had gum disease; in one in 20 (5%) this was moderate to severe – and irreversible. Half the mouth was affected by gum disease in three out of four players.
Around one in six (16%) reported current pain in their mouth or teeth, while around one in four (27%) experienced dental sensitivity to hot or cold food/drink.
The footballers said that the state of their mouths did affect them. Poor tooth and gum health “bothered” almost half (45%) of them, and one in five (20%) said it undermined their quality of life. Around 7% said that it adversely affected their performance or training.
The researchers call for regular dental screening to be a part of routine medical care in professional football, together with an increased emphasis on simple, effective, preventive approaches to help athletes look after their teeth and gums.