A new study suggests that healthy teeth help athletes to perform at their highest level. Unfortunately, one trait that many athletes share in common is their lack of oral health. A study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that a fifth of athletes said tooth discomfort damaged their training, and as a result, their performance. Of the 302 athletes examined, from 25 sports, 55% had evidence of cavities, 45% had tooth erosion and 76% had gum disease.

When performing at an Olympic level, it is the miniscule improvements that make all the difference. “It’s the accumulation of marginal gains, where the difference between elite athletes at the very top is small,” says Prof Ian Needleman, of the International Centre for Evidence-Based Oral Health. “Then oral health, amongst other aspects, could make a difference.” In an athletes diet comes a high amount of carbohydrates, including sugary energy drinks that are harmful to teeth. Tooth discomfort has the ability to disrupt sleep cycles, causing inflammation of the gums and impairment of one’s concentration.

According to Dr. Mike Loosemore, the doctor for the GB Boxing Team, “I’ve become aware over the years that dental problems have been interfering with training. It stops them getting that little bit fitter and may have a consequence when they get into the ring and box.” Doctors are working to improve dental awareness in the sports arena and are encouraging athletes to have regular dental checks.