Did you know that athletes coming from overseas to compete at the London 2012 Olympics are all able to receive completely free dental care?
In fact a specially constructed dental clinic has been opened at the Olympic Park.
For many people this might be a little surprising. After all, if anyone is going to look after their health, it’s going to be Olympic athletes. Most people would tend to assume that athletes eat a healthy diet, and tend not to consume food which is likely to damage their teeth.
Since their lives revolve around health it is reasonable for most people to assume that these are probably the last people who need to benefit from additional dental care.
In fact this isn’t true, and many of the top athletes performing in the Olympics this year will be among those most in danger of suffering from tooth related problems, such as dental erosion, cavities and gum disease.
In fact the very reason why athletes and health-conscious individuals may be at this additional risk is also why we need to think more carefully about our children, and their dental hygiene.
The Real Dental Risk To Athletes And Children
The real problem is actually down to health drinks and energy drinks. Most of the top athletes in the Olympics will be consuming significant quantities of these sports drinks and energy drinks, and it is these drinks which significantly increase the risk of tooth decay and dental erosion.
Most athletes will drink straight from the bottle, which means that the sugary energy drinks coat their teeth, and as they will then be engaged in physical activity for some considerable time it is unlikely that they will be brushing their teeth very soon after drinking.
Not only that, but most athletes will not only drink these energy drinks, but will then be exercising in such a way that they will be breathing through their mouth, which will inevitably be fairly dry.
This means that there is a reduction in the amount of saliva in the mouth, and of course it is the saliva which is the body’s natural way of helping to counter the problems caused by the bacteria breaking down the enamel of the tooth.
All of these factors then add up to one simple fact, and that is that Olympic athletes are very much at risk from tooth decay and gum disease. This is the main reason why this polyclinic has been opened at the Olympic Park, and why overseas athletes will be able to receive their free dental care at any time during the Olympics.
Going Beyond The Olympic Legacy
But this message should also be borne in mind when thinking about young people, including children. Sports drinks and energy drinks are readily available from supermarkets and high street shops, and are popular with children. But because children will be drinking these sugary drinks, often imagining them to be health drinks in some way, their teeth are very much at risk.
We can help with this initially through simply educating them about the risks. But it’s also easy to make slight changes which will help to reduce the risk of dental erosion.
For example, simply using a straw rather than drinking from a glass or bottle will significantly reduce the amount of contact between the drink and the teeth.
If children are looking at Olympic athletes as role models, and this is certainly a positive thing to encourage, we should also make sure that we take this opportunity to teach children about looking after their teeth as well as looking after their bodies.