A Career in Sports Dentistry

Sports dentistry is an emerging area of sports and exercise medicine concerned with the oral health of athletes at every level from recreational to professional.

In this article, Dr Anni Seaborne discusses how to get involved as a Sports Dentist.

Dr Anni Seaborne | BDS, PGDip

Dentist with Special Interest in Sports Dentistry

Team Dentist, Harlequins RFC

I qualified from Cardiff University in 2016 and completed my VT year in Wales before moving to London where I now work in general practice. I am starting my final year of my MSc in Sports Dentistry at UCL Eastman. This is a new course and I will be part of the first cohort to graduate with a masters in this field. 

I am the team dentist for Harlequins RFC men and women’s teams and have also been fortunate to work with other athletes from Olympians to World Champion boxers.

I am also currently training for the 2022 Lacrosse World Championships alongside my dental career.

A Career in Sports Dentistry

Sports Dentistry is a relatively new branch of dentistry. Recent research shows that athletes are at increased risk of dental disease due to a multitude of factors. Poor oral health has the potential to negatively impact performance. With elite sports becoming all about marginal gains, sports dentistry is no longer just about managing trauma but working with the wider sports medical team to ensure the athlete is able to perform at an optimal level.

I have always played sport and the opportunity to combine sport with my dentistry was a no brainer. As soon as I heard there was going to be a masters in the field I jumped at the chance. I have since had the opportunity to work with some awesome athletes from world champion boxers to international rugby players. The work ranges from pre-season screening to dealing with traumas and both routine and cosmetic dentistry.
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There is a lot more to sports dentistry than just mouthguards!

Sports dentistry can be split simplistically into four sections: screening, acute management, education & prevention, and performance.

Screening

Pre-season screening is essential to provide information allowing for the co-ordination of athlete’s dental care,  to ensure all are dentally healthy for the start of a competitive season. 

The objectives of dental screening are to: 

  • Detect underlying conditions that would hamper or limit athlete participation 
  • Identify previous dental problems and potential short/long term problems
  • Establish a baseline record of general dental health to allow building of a player dental portfolio 
  • Establish a squad database and identify those higher risk athletes who require treatment and further investigation 
  • Establish an injury prevention policy if required 

Following on from screening, athletes that are likely to require further treatment should seek a follow up examination in a clinical setting.

Acute Management

The sports dentist should be able to provide emergency dental care in respect to the athlete’s availability and training/playing schedule. This may mean providing pitch side cover for matches or being aware of the players schedule to ensure that should there be any dental trauma, it can be sorted appropriately within a suitable time frame. This is not necessarily restricted to dental trauma but may include management of other acute dental disease.

As well as the management of dental trauma, sports dentists should also:

  • Work with the medical team, to ensure there is an appropriate up to date dental and head trauma management protocol for training and match days. 
  • Establish and supply the required dental equipment for emergency management on match days. 
  • Support the rest of the medical team where possible and within scope of practice. This may include tasks such as suturing.
  • Ensure there is an appropriate and efficient referral pathway for treatment beyond the skills of the dentist eg. Facial fractures.

Education & Prevention

  • Provide education on oral hygiene advice to athletes. This may include presentations and oral health packages. Utilise data from dental screening to work with high risk athletes. 
  • Liaise with other members of the medical team (e.g. nutritionist) to ensure oral health has been considered in their planning and advice. 
  • Ensuring the team are appropriately protected with the provision of mouthguards. As well as ensuring mouthguards are of a suitable standard and providing sufficient protection.

Performance

The main factor to allow for optimal performance is by reducing the risk of acute and chronic dental disease. However, there is also emerging research on performance enhancing mouthguards. Whilst the evidence is currently quite weak, like any speciality, it is important to keep up to date with research on how any aspect of dentistry may improve athletic performance.

Pros & Cons of Sports Dentistry

  • It is something different and provides variety to your day-to-day work
  • You get to work as part of a greater medical team
  • You have the opportunity to work at some amazing events
  • Athletes are grateful for your help
  • Athletes are notoriously bad at managing their own schedules. Be prepared to become a personal assistant and constantly having to move appointments around last minute
  • You are expected to always be at the end of your phone, this is not a 9-5 and messages on weekends are common

How to Get Involved in Sports Dentistry

At the moment there is only one masters course available, which is at UCL; however, you can always start by contacting your local clubs to offer your services and build experience that way. You can also volunteer at events such as the Commonwealth Games. Make sure you are confident in the management of dental trauma and suturing as a starting point. 

I would recommend pursuing the MSc at UCL if you are serious in working with elite and international athletes. 

Conclusion

Sports dentistry is a wonderful and varied specialty which takes you outside of the dental practice. It is important to appreciate that it is more than just fixing fractured teeth and that promotion of oral health and prevention of oral disease is of equal importance. As a relatively new field, now is the time to get involved before the discipline becomes too saturated. 

Further Information

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