Olympians and Paralympians told to brush teeth for Christmas

By Becky GreyBBC Sport
A leaflet with instructions on how to brush your teeth
Athletes were sent a Christmas cracker containing mouthwash and instructions on how to brush their teeth

'Season's Greetings!' 'Happy Holidays!' 'Brush your teeth!'

The messaging in Christmas cards sent to British Olympians and Paralympians may be a bit odd this year, but it is for a good reason.

Athletes have been sent instructions to maintain their dental hygiene over the festive season in a bid to reduce lost training days.

In 2019 the English Institute of Sport (EIS) identified that, across the 1,200 athletes they support, 100 training days were lost in the first two weeks of January.

Previously scientists had noticed a spike in illness, particularly coughs and colds, during this period and deduced that it was because athletes became slightly more relaxed around the holidays.

"We were finding that athletes were going home for Christmas, coming back and we were losing quite a lot of training time in those first couple of weeks in January," said Dr Anita Biswas, medical lead for the EIS athlete health team.

"A couple of years ago we decided to see if we could reduce that impact on training for our athletes. We introduced an initiative which was basically a Christmas present.

"It had a few items in like hand foam, throat sprays and a bit of chocolate as a treat.

"The main reason for it was to give the athletes information that fundamentally reminded them to avoid illness over Christmas and about their behaviours."

As well as the 100 training days recovered, the EIS noticed a 60% decrease in illnesses among their athletes in the first two weeks of January compared to the previous year.

This year, assuming everyone has got the message about hand-washing by now, the team changed their focus.

Partly because of research suggesting gargling with a certain type of mouthwash reduces the risk of viruses and partly because of lost training days when athletes need to visit the dentist, the team is now all about dental health.

They sent out Christmas crackers containing instructions on good oral hygiene and mouthwash to help athletes.

Given the tumultuous year many have had after the postponement of the Tokyo Games, the cracker also contains information on where to find health support resources.

It is not the first gift athletes have received this year. Given the Games were supposed to be starting in July, they were sent packs to help them keep well on the plane, including wipes for the tables and armrests, throat sprays and hand foam.

As well as an obligatory joke (I only get ill on Saturdays and Sundays. I've got a weekend immunity), athletes are getting an extra treat.

"Even though we are talking about oral hygiene, we have put a bit of chocolate in as well because who doesn't like a bit of chocolate?" Dr Biswas said.

"I am just hoping they'll see that they need to brush their teeth after as well."