March Madness is about to begin! Selection Sunday is this Sunday, March 11th, which means it’s almost time to start making your team selections for your bracket. Who do you think will make it to the Final Four? Who do you think will win?
As you think about your teams, think about their teeth and how it will affect their odds. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But did you know an athlete’s dental health can impact their athletic performance and overall health?
Not only will this information be important as you participate in March Madness, but if you or anyone in your family plays sports, this information could very well save you a lot of time, pain and money!
How Does Dental Health Affect an Athlete’s Performance?
Poor dental health can have a significant impact on an athlete’s performance, and they are at risk of several dental and overall health issues if they aren’t properly caring for and protecting their teeth.
University College London conducted a survey at the London 2012 Olympics among its athletes and found that 18 percent of athletes said their oral health had a negative impact on their performance and 46.5 percent said they had not been to the dentist in the past year.
Similarly, basketball players are at risk of poor dental health because of some common habits among the players and due to the nature of the sport. While not considered a collision sport like football or rugby, basketball is still a contact sport, which means there is an increased risk of injury.
First, let me explain a couple of ways poor dental health can affect an athlete’s performance:
1. It Could Make It Harder to Breathe – If an athlete is not caring for their oral health—either from neglected dental care at home, poor diet or refusing to visit a dentist —they could be at risk of gum disease.
Gum disease may increase their risk of getting respiratory infections like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. Bacteria from the mouth could be inhaled into the lungs, causing them to become inflamed and making it harder to breathe.
2. It Could Cause Fatigue – Did you know cavities are essentially infections of the tooth? Many infections cause fatigue.
Athletes will feel tired if they have a toothache or cavity as a result of poor oral health. Not to mention, significant toothaches can keep them up at night, causing some associated sleeping difficulties, which takes away the rest they need.
3. It Could Cause Headaches – Toothaches can commonly cause headaches, and sometimes earaches. This could be debilitating if they have a big game or practice they need to be at.
No one wants to exert a lot of energy when you have a bad headache or migraine. Also, if you’ve ever been to a basketball game, these events are far from quiet!
4. It Could Require an Emergency Trip to the Dentist – The longer oral health is neglected, the likelier a trip to the hospital or the dentist is on the horizon. Athletes can only neglect their dental health for so long before major dental issues arise.
When players are regularly visiting their dentist and taking care of their teeth at home, they make the schedule for their dental visits. When dental is neglected and they wait until a major problem comes up, the possibility of that issue requiring immediate care during a practice or game is more likely. Don’t let dental dictate your schedule.
5. It Could Increase Their Risk of Dehydration – Dehydration is a common issue among athletes, which causes a dry mouth and a decrease in saliva, making them more vulnerable to tooth decay.
One of the solutions to dry mouth—or preventative methods—is drinking plenty of water. When athletes choose energy drinks and certain sports drinks over water, the risk of dry mouth and a decrease in saliva increases.
Disclaimer: While you heard me speak to athletes specifically in this section, this applies to us all! We are all at risk of these particular problems if we are not caring for our teeth the way we should.
What Common Dental Injuries Exist in Basketball?
In the previous section, we discussed the impact poor dental health can have on an athlete’s performance, but what about those dental injuries that can take our players out of the game?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information,
Below are common dental injuries that can occur while playing basketball, and other sports:
1. Fractured or Cracked Teeth – A tooth fracture is a painful crack in a tooth. It is treatable by a medical professional and is usually self-diagnosable due to the pain and aesthetics of the tooth. Lab testing is often required though since some of the cracks could be so small that they can only be seen on a dental x-ray. The pain from the tooth may or may not be debilitating to the athlete, depending on the severity of the crack.
2. Lost Teeth – Tooth avulsion is the complete displacement of a tooth from its socket due to trauma. The tooth essentially falls out of the player’s mouth. In the case of a lost tooth, the player will find himself in a dental emergency and will need to visit a dentist immediately to save the tooth.
Most experts explain that if a tooth is not replaced within 30 minutes to 1 hour after it has fallen out, it likely cannot be reimplanted.
3. Tooth Intrusion – This is defined as displacement of a tooth farther into the alveolar bone – the bone that holds tooth sockets. Often caused by a strong use of force on the tooth – taking a hit.
There are different severity levels of tooth intrusion. Mild intrusion can often be left to correct itself; moderate intrusion may require orthodontic repositioning; and severe intrusion could result in orthodontic repositioning or surgical repositioning.
4. Tooth Extrusion – A tooth extrusion is partial displacement of a tooth out of its socket. This would feel like a loose tooth in your mouth. This type of dental injury often results in a tooth that is longer than the rest. It is particularly tender.
Also a result of physical force, a tooth extrusion can usually be reinserted into the tooth socket and stabilized using a flexible splint.
5. TMJ (or temporomandibular joint dislocation) – TMJ injuries in sports are actually fairly common and are recognized by a number of names:
- Acute capsulitis: Caused by direct trauma to the face. It can result in immediate pain in the face and often swelling at the TMJ.
- Acute closed lock: Also caused by direct trauma to the face. With this type of problem at the TMJ, you will not only experience pain and swelling but an immediate decrease in your ability to open and close your mouth. This injury has to be resolved on its own.
- Open locking: This type of dental injury is a result of a displaced disc. The jaw may feel stuck open. And while you might not experience much pain, not being able to close your mouth may feel traumatic. If you’ve ever played an instrument in band, you may be aware of the risks of this or may know someone who has experienced it.
- Chronic TMJ: Also a possible result of a sports injury, chronic TMJ may cause non-painful clicking and other symptoms like locking jaw, headaches and more. Oral appliance therapy is often recommended as treatment for chronic TMJ.
The key way to avoid injuries like this in basketball is for players to wear a mouthguard, which we’ll talk about more in the next section.
What Needs to Change in the NBA and NCAA for the Health of Our Players?
As you can see from above, there are many possible ways players can injure their teeth and mouth during basketball. There are also common habits among athletes that can negatively affect a player’s dental health, and by extension their overall health. These habits include:
- Not wearing a mouth guard
- Drinking highly acidic and sugary beverages
- Not visiting the dentist regularly, if at all
So What Needs to Be Done?
According to the manufacturer of SISU Sports Mouthguards (Akervall Technologies, Inc.)…in the early days of football, it was reported that 25-54% of football players suffered a dental injury. High schools and colleges around the country started piloting mouth guard programs and pushed for an official mandate.
That mandate came shortly after 1960 when the American Dental Association (ADA) started conducting research on the benefits of mouth guard use. The National Alliance for Football Rules Committee (NAFRC) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) officially mandated mouthguards for football. This mandate did not come about quickly or easily. It required involvement from players, coaches, parents, media and social influences.
In the early 2000s, the ADA did a study that found dental injury risk went down drastically when mouthguards were mandatory. And players weren’t necessarily against it. One collegiate basketball player explained, “Wearing a mouth guard gives you that sense of security, that you have the edge over someone else. You can take a hit but they don’t have that same protection.”
Now, our hope is that all players would be wearing mouthguards, but you see the level of comfort doing so can bring to our players.
Some All-Star NBA players are trying to make the use of mouthguards more mainstream and “cool.” LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin – to name a few – although some may have noticed that they don’t always use mouthguards properly. The mouthguard should never be chewed on the side of your mouth.
Another significant issue in basketball—and sports in general—is the diets these athletes consume. For instance, how many commercials have you seen your favorite athletes in that promote energy drinks or sugary beverages. While their high-carbohydrate diets and sugary, acidic energy drinks may give them the boost they need to compete, the negative dental and health implications far outweigh the short-term benefits. It contributes to tooth decay and erosion, which we mentioned can cause fatigue and other health problems, contradicting the very motivation for consuming these drinks.
To make positive strides in protecting our players’ dental health, we hope the NCAA and NBA begin taking notice of these risks and taking action by…
- Requiring Mouthguards Be Worn in Basketball by All Players. The stats are clear. Mouthguard use in many sports, including basketball, has proven to decrease the number of dental injuries.
- Recommending Diets Should Exclude or Limit Sugary, Acidic Energy Drinks. There are other beverages and foods that can give athletes’ the energy boost they need to compete.
So How Do I Make My Selections Based on a Team’s Collective Dental Health?
Realistically, this probably can’t be done, unless you were to interview each team about their dental health habits—an interesting experiment for a later time! The point of this post is to bring attention to the significant impact dental health can have on our athletic performance and overall health.
And as far as March Madness goes, just know there are many contributing factors to a team’s success and while you might not immediately think of a team’s dental health, it can contribute to a team’s success.
So, teams and coaches, please pay attention! Good dental health is important for everyone. Protecting our teeth is also a key part of getting that win. Don’t forget to create your bracket!