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Chicago dentist helping to keep Olympians’ oral health in focus

November 01, 2019

By David Burger

Chicago — Dr. David Kumamoto is an Olympics fanatic.

“I always incur extra cable charges to watch them,” said the Chicago dentist.

Besides rooting for Team USA, Dr. Kumamoto has great interest in the oral health of the world’s Olympians.

He is among the select group of dentists around the globe who gathered in September in Osaka, Japan, for the second International Workshop on Sports Dentistry to develop recommendations to and provide all support requested by Olympic officials readying the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

 Dr. Kumamoto ISDS
Dr. Kumamoto

The Japanese Olympic Committee will apply the evidence-based information from that conference in their Olympic dental clinic during the games, said Dr. Kumamoto.

“There were only 27 people invited to attend the conference,” said Dr. Kumamoto. “A lot of the attendees work with their own countries’ Olympians.”

Dr. Kumamoto’s reputation as an experienced and knowledgeable sports dentist is well established, having been the team dentist for the athletic department at the
University of Illinois at Chicago for 37 seasons. He is also a clinical associate professor emeritus at the UIC College of Dentistry and adjunct faculty member at the Fox College Dental Hygiene Program.

“Dr. Kumamoto is a legend in the sports dentistry world and one of the great guys who laid the foundation for improving the oral health and safety in athletes across the entire spectrum from kids to Olympians,” said Dr. Paul Piccininni, a Canadian dentist who was among the workshop participants in Osaka.

Dr. Piccininni brought their recommendations to Japanese Olympic officials after the conference. He also was in Tokyo to see how the Olympic dental clinic was coming along.

“When Dr. Kumamoto speaks, people listen,” said Dr. Piccininni, who is dental director of the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission Group.

According to the Olympic Games Health Care Guide, issued in July by The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, “The Tokyo 2020 Dental Service will provide immediate and necessary dental care for athletes and team officials in the Olympic Village. Dental screening to diagnose and improve oral health will be available for athletes. In addition, there will be a custom-fit mouth guard program in operation during the Games.”

The commitment to oral health at the Olympics is evident on Olympic.org, where it says, “Teeth are just as important as any other part of the body to the athlete and his athletic performance. So take care of your teeth and they will take care of you.”

The second International Workshop on Sports Dentistry in Osaka was attended by representatives from the Japanese Academy of Sports Dentistry, the Korean Academy of Sports Dentistry, the U.S.-based Academy for Sports Dentistry and dentists from Taiwan, France, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and Egypt. In addition to their work with Olympic athletes, many of the participants have conducted research related to sports dentistry.  The purpose of the meeting was to build on the evidence and scientific data from the first International Workshop on Sports Dentistry held in 2016 in Honolulu that expanded the field of sports dentistry in areas such as dental trauma treatment and nutrition.

One focus of the meeting was mouthguards, Dr. Kumamoto said. Among the effects of mouthguards covered in their discussion were preventing and reducing traumatic dentofacial injuries, concussions and minor brain injuries as well as approaches to improve mouthguard efficacy, as well as the relationship between occlusion and performance. They also explored the relationship between oral health of athletes and its effect on performance and treatment options for injured athletes.

Some of the conclusions reached at this meeting were:
•    Mouthguards contribute to a low prevalence of dental trauma among athletes in contact sports.
•    Prevention of dental trauma through the use of mouthguards should be promoted by educating the sports groups involved.
•    Dentists should strive to remove the barriers to mouthguard compliance.
•    The oral health education of athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and parents needs to be stressed at all levels of competition.  

The findings from the conference were also presented to over 100 dentists belonging to the Japanese Academy of Sports Dentistry, the Osaka Dental Association and the Japan Dental Association at the Osaka University Nakanoshima Center, Dr. Kumamoto said.

Other organizations share a growing focus on the importance of sports dentistry.

In June, the FDI World Dental Federation released a series of sports dentistry resources for amateur and elite athletes, dentists and sports medicine physicians and sports organizations.

The FDI indicated that oral injury or trauma are not the only dental dilemmas that arise while practicing sports. Sports-related stress can lead to dehydration, dry mouth and teeth grinding. Energy beverages and certain foods and supplements routinely consumed by athletes contain added sugars and acidic ingredients, which can cause caries and increase the risk of gum disease and tooth erosion. And a dental emergency – such as a gum abscess, infected tooth or wisdom tooth eruption – before a competition can impair performance or even prevent the athlete from participating at all.

Dr. Kumamoto is not the only person at the University of Illinois at Chicago involved with health care at the Olympics. His colleague, Mark R. Hutchinson, M.D.,  a professor of orthopedics and sports medicine  has served as director of sports medicine services at the university. In addition to his service to the sports teams of the University of Illinois, Dr. Hutchinson has worked with Team USA’s Olympians since 1995, which has included five weeks in Rio de Janeiro before, during and after the 2016 Summer Games. Dr. Hutchinson said the dental clinic at the Olympics is often among the busiest clinic because athletes take the opportunity to address long-standing dental issues in part because the treatment is free.

Dr. Piccininni confirmed that the traffic at the dental clinic is second only to that at the physical therapy clinic at the Olympic Medical Center.

Dr. Hutchinson and Dr. Kumamoto share similar sentiments about why they are so committed to the health care of Olympic athletes.

“I have had an Olympic dream since I was little,” said Dr. Hutchinson, lamenting that he ended up not possessing the physical ability to be an Olympian athlete.

But he, and others like Dr. Kumamoto, can still possess the Olympic spirit.