Usain Bolt suffered from broken teeth and dental anxiety during his career due to poor dental care in Jamaica
- Usain Bolt told Insider he had damaged teeth during his sprinting career.
- The damage was because of the poor dental quality available in his home country of Jamaica.
Usain Bolt's genetics gifted him the generational athleticism to win eight Olympic gold medals, but he's still needed some dental work.
"If you watch my career, I had broken teeth through my younger age that I couldn't get fixed because it wasn't easily accessible," Bolt told Insider.
—Jackson Thompson (@Jacksonbht) October 21, 2021
In Jamaica, there is less than one dentist for every 100,000 people on average, according to the World Health Organization. A study published by the Caribbean Medical Journal found that 70% of Jamaicans had a painful aching in their mouth, 65% found it uncomfortable to eat food due to the state of their dental health, and 49% were self-conscious about their teeth.
Bolt was exposed to the harsh conditions of Jamaican dentistry as a child.
"It wasn't a good experience as a kid to get your teeth pulled because we did not have all the necessary numbing agents to help," Bolt said of his first trip to the dentist. "It was a lot more painful than it should've been as a kid."
Bolt's experience in Jamaica caused him to develop anxiety about dental care later in life
When Bolt established himself as a global star and came into wealth, he decided to get his teeth fixed in Germany in 2015.
"I went to Germany when I finally decided to fix my teeth properly, and just the equipment and how it was done quickly and done well was just amazing," Bolt said.
Still, Bolt said he had anxiety and fear about the experience due to his bad experiences at Jamaican dentists.
"Something that I think people are always worried about. Because a lot of people don't go the dentist," Bolt said. "Because they're always slightly worried about what's going to happen."
Bolt is not the only professional athlete to suffer from dental anxiety either, and some who suffer from it grew up in the US.
A study by The American Association of Orthodontists found that 49% of athletes had untreated tooth decay and early signs of gum inflammation.
Dr. Amira Ogunleye, a cosmetic dentist who co-owns her dental firm "Beautiful Smiles" in South Florida, operates on high-profile athletes, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. She's seen the struggles and fears associated with athletes' dental care up close.
"You could have a 6-foot-10 guy in your chair, and he is terrified," Ogunleye told Insider. "No matter how 'manly' these men are, once they get in that room, it's like they're no longer the name. They're a patient who has dental anxieties. They're a patient who has concerns."
Dental care is less available to Black and Hispanic children in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), with 17% of children from low-income households having untreated cavities in their primary teeth, which is three times the percentage of children from higher-income households.
"A lot of individuals, especially in the brown and Black communities, have not had regular access to dental care," Ogunleye said. "A lot of them I found had really bad experiences one way or another growing up, so there's just been this fear, and it leads a lot of people to put it off until it becomes really bad."
Bolt is now working to make quality dental care more accessible to underserved communities
India's National Oral Health Program reports that 95 percent of all adults have gum disease, and 50 percent of citizens don't use a toothbrush. The program also noted that 70 percent of children under the age of 15 have dental caries (cavities).
The Philippines College of Dentistry found that nearly 90 percent of Filipinos suffer from tooth decay, and almost 100 percent of children between 3 and 5 years old have cavities.
But Bolt is now working on expanding global access to dental care, starting with his home country by partnering with 3D dental printing technology company SprintRay. Bolt is launching a charitable initiative to provide underserved global populations with high-quality dental care.
The initiative is currently slated to include two clinics, a centralized 3D printing lab, and a mobile dental unit, but this may change based on specific needs advised by the Jamaican Dental Association or Health Ministry.
"I understand the need for this in the rural areas of Jamaica," Bolt said. "Se get a bus and travel around the rural areas to the less fortunate and just the people who can't really travel miles to get there."
Bolt's efforts are focused on Jamaica for the moment, but the goal is to make SprintRay's services available to communities in other countries in the future.
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