The Real Reason Your Game is Off

Could gum disease be deflating your athletic performance? Surprisingly, it affects many elite athletes. The YOU Docs give the numbers and offer up remedies.

Proper brushing to combat gum disease

What's keeping you from hitting your top speed on the field or playing your best late in a game? According to a new study, the surprising answer might be: your mouth.

Researchers recruited 302 Olympians from the Athletes Village at London 2012, and asked them to undergo an oral health check-up and a personal assessment of the impact oral health had on their quality of life and athletic training and performance.

The study found that more than 76% of participants had gingivitis—an early stage of gum disease—and 15% had signs of periodontitis. Nearly half of the athletes were "bothered" by their oral health; more than a quarter said it had an impact on their quality of life; and 18 percent said the condition was negatively influencing their training and performance. It's easy to see why: Low-grade infections sap your endurance. That's what periodontitis is, and does.

The answer? Flossing daily, brushing twice a day and seeing a dentist every six months is a good start. You'll also want to learn the ideal way to brush your teeth. To adequately clean your teeth and remove plaque, you need to spend two minutes brushing each time. Use a soft brush and rub the bristles up toward your gums. Change your toothbrush every two months.

Those newfangled ultrasonic brushes amaze many dentists with their plaque-fighting abilities—and some come with built-in two-minute timers. We actually prefer sonic brushes, since they produce more than thirty thousand brushstrokes a minute, compared to about five thousand for typical electric toothbrushes. In addition, the sonic brushes spray into the crevices of teeth to clean beyond where the tips of the bristles actually touch. Thus, they're more effective at dislodging plaque.

No matter how you brush, make sure to floss—something that four in five people still don't do. If you don't floss, you're not cleaning 40 percent of your teeth. Dentists (and sports medicine docs) consider flossing even more crucial than brushing for preventing tooth decay and periodontal disease—and achieving peak athletic performance.

The floss should barely pass between the teeth and should gently touch the gums. If your floss breaks, try the thicker or waxed stuff, or Oral-B's Glide brand, which is made with Gore-tex material. Whatever you do, don't just jam the floss in between your teeth, or you might cut your gums, and your bathroom sink will look like a war zone.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock