Interview: White teeth for Olympic champions
During the upcoming London Olympics, a team of nine German dentists will be taking care of the oral health of the national athletes on behalf of the German dental company BEGO, which has been a partner of the German Olympic team since 2002. The team will be led by Dr Zita Funkenhauser, who is not only a dentist but also a former two-time Olympic champion and multiple-time world champion in fencing. Dental Tribune ONLINE had the opportunity to speak with Funkenhauser, who has been running her own practice in the south German town of Tauberbischofsheim successfully for 16 years now.
Dental Tribune ONLINE: Dr Funkenhauser, how did you become involved in the Olympic dental team and what have your experiences been?
Dr Zita Funkenhauser: After having attended the Olympics for the last time as an athlete in 1992, I needed a timeout from sports and did not come into contact with the Olympics until Beijing 2008, when I first joined the BEGO Dental team. It was very nice and fascinating to encounter this significantly more relaxed side of the games. Since there is no pressure to win, you have the opportunity to see things from another perspective. For example, you can appreciate being in a foreign city much more. Moreover, I still enjoy seeing the other fencers and doctors I have known for many years. It is like a big family reunion.
How would you describe the daily routine in the Olympic dental practice?
BEGO Dental is very committed to sports. This will be the third time that it will be offering a fully equipped dental practice at the German House. Various dental companies, such as KaVO, Pluradent and Prevent, have sponsored the equipment for our practice and our partner practice in London gratis. At all hours, we will be providing care to the German Olympic team and to visitors to the house. This year, we will be offering bleaching for the first time. Some athletes have made appointments already because they are looking forward to receiving their medal with a bright smile.
What do you suppose the most common dental injuries during the Olympic Games are?
Typically, we perform emergency treatments, which means that athletes arrive at our practice with impacted wisdom teeth, chipped teeth, pulpitis or gingivitis. What most people don’t realise is that the immune system of top athletes is surprisingly weak. Owing to their high stress level and demanding performance, the system is sometimes completely exhausted and little problems that the body usually manages very easily can cause complications and pain.
Have you noticed any significant differences between Olympic dental practices in Asia and Europe?
I think there are no major differences. When I first arrived at the Olympic Village in Beijing, I was amazed because the practice resembled a small clinic. After all, there are 10,000 athletes from various nations with sometimes vastly different national health care. In Germany, for instance, we have very good dental health care and our athletes don’t arrive with caries or other diseases generally, which is not necessarily the case for athletes from other countries. However, concerning the Olympics, I think there is a very good international standard at the Olympic Villages, whether in Beijing or in London.
Did you have a dental emergency yourself when you were still actively participating?
Fortunately not, but once, in Seoul, one of my teammates had an aching wisdom tooth and I accompanied him because I was already studying dentistry at the time. For the first time, I experienced what it means to need dental treatment in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Owing to this experience in particular, I think that BEGO’s idea of establishing a German dental practice is a very good one. Visiting the dentist is never a pleasant experience but by providing a familiar environment and the same standard of care as available at home, we can help the patient feel comfortable.
Being a former Olympic champion, do you think you have any advantages in dealing with the athletes in comparison with your colleagues?
They are all practising dentists and at a professional level they are certainly as good as I am, but, without doubt, I am able to empathise with the athletes more easily because I can recall my own fears and concerns when I was an athlete. Very often, athletes approach me differently, maybe because we are on the same wavelength. Athletes recognise each other.
Does being at the Olympic Games again make you feel like exchanging the drill for the foil?
No. I admit that I would really like to step up to the podium to receive a gold medal again, but I also know how much work it takes. Today, I am rather hoping for my two daughters to develop the ambition to participate in the Olympic Games one day. They are both fencers too. I am looking forward to the London Olympics, during which I will be introducing them this extraordinary world.
Thank you very much for the interview.