Athletes: think about protecting your oral flora!

High-level athletes are more vulnerable to cavities and gum disease (gingivitis), dental plaque, chronic dental diseases… Is their mouth more fragile? A study of the oral microbiota of professional rugby players by a French team seems to confirm it.


Since a number of observations were made in the 2012 London Olympics, athletes (both men and women) have been considered to have a poor oral health status. According to the researchers, the reasons behind this deficiency in rugby players are: wearing mouthguards, diet, and oral hygiene, but also the impact of strenuous physical activity on the organism and repeated facial trauma from contact sports. All of this impacts the 450 bacterial species that are present in an adult mouth.

Mistreated microorganisms

For 4 months, bacterial samples (teeth, gums, saliva) were taken from 24 professional rugby players and an imbalance of their oral flora (called dysbiosis) was observed, more particularly a decrease in oral bacterial diversity and a different bacterial composition compared to the general population. As with other athletes, there are many possible causes: alteration in saliva (flow and acidity), frequency of food intake, consumption of energizing drinks and especially increased sugar intakes, whose assimilation, among others, impacts the oral flora. Combined with a poor oral hygiene, all this weakens the microbial population and promotes oral Streptococcus colonization, a bacterial group that includes some species that are the main responsible for the formation of cavities.

Low immune defenses

That is not all: strenuous and repeated physical activity weakens cardiovascular health and negatively impacts protective immune cells, leaving an “open window” to the onset and development of the inflammatory process. The scientists believe that “a more rigorous routine dental screening should be included in the health management of athletes”, and they conclude that “since saliva analysis is non‑invasive, it is a good indicator of oral health in high-level athletes, and saliva pH modulation with pre- or probiotics could be part of future strategies”.



Minty M et al.  Oral health and microbiota status in professional rugby players: A case-control study. J Dent. 2018 Oct 4