Four in 10 professional footballers in the U.K. have decaying teeth and 1 in 20 has irreversible gum disease, according to new research. That's bad news for the players' mouths and their overall health. But it also translates into bad news for soccer fans.
Pro players' crumbling teeth also affect their performance on the field. Nearly half of the players reported being "bothered" by tooth decay and/or deteriorating gums, 20 percent believed that it had an impact on quality of life, and roughly 7 percent said it negatively affected their game.
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And despite how easy it is to chalk it up to British dentistry, the rate of dental decay among U.K. players is similar to rates in Brazil and the United States. Players in Spain "have significant oral health problems," notes a separate study.
These numbers seem especially high in light of how often professional sports players have medical exams and follow-ups.
The question is: why?
It could be related to sports drinks - 64 percent of the nearly 187 players in the current study said they drank the sugary beverages at least three times a week - but more research is needed to determine if sweet drinks play a causative role.
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Another possible explanation? The unique chemistry of athletes' mouths. Previous research suggests that intense exercise can cause the pH of saliva to go up - or become more alkaline - and more alkaline saliva has been associated with dental problems.
The need for better dental care among soccer's elite players is "urgent," say the experts, but the answers are the same ones that ordinary citizens get everyday: Brush and floss regularly, and don't skip your dental check-ups.