Significance and Safety of Mouthguards
The snow has almost melted away, the grass is starting to green and the athletic fields are filling with kids playing sports. Spring is finally here.
From youth sports to the pros, games are being played again in baseball, softball and lacrosse. Kids are running around with gloves and sticks, shooting, sliding and throwing. They should also be protecting themselves, especially their faces.
We need to remember that helmets, face guards and mouth guards play important roles in preventing oral and facial sports-related injuries. Part of that awareness is designating April as National Facial Protection Month, an annual campaign co-sponsored by the American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Association of Orthodontists, the Academy for Sports Dentistry and the American Dental Association.
The goal of National Facial Protection Month is make athletes aware of the importance of protective equipment. As dental professionals, we are in a unique position to play a vital role as community educators on this subject. It is a role we should not take lightly.
At one time, the use of mouth guards was traditionally limited to a few contact sports like football, boxing and hockey, but that list has expanded.
Mouth guards are now being used in increasing frequency in sports like basketball, soccer, volleyball and, even, cheerleading. It helps when high profile athletes like LeBron James or Steph Curry of the NBA, Aaron Rodgers from the NFL and Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably one of the world’s best soccer players, are regularly seen wearing mouth guards. Many state high school athletic associations now make the use of mouth guards mandatory for athletes.
According to the American Dental Association, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 oral injuries are prevented by the use of mouth guards. With that kind of data, it is hard to make a case against the use of mouth guards. But remember: Protective sports equipment like helmets and mouth guards can only help if they are worn!
You’ll never see any athlete at any level playing football, hockey, lacrosse or cycling without a protective helmet on. Protecting one’s head is vitally important, that’s obvious. So why wouldn’t it be just as important to protect your mouth and teeth with a mouth guard? After all, we all need our teeth to talk and eat.
As a member of the Manchester Monarchs medical staff, I have seen what mouth guards do for players. They have allowed many players to avoid nothing more than a soft tissue injury – as opposed to losing teeth or breaking a jaw – after taking a stick, puck or fist to the face. The Monarchs’ dental team is responsible for fabricating custom made mouth guards for the players each year and that’s important.
The Academy of Sports Dentistry warns that mouth guards worn by athletes should be custom fitted to be most effective and advocate against the use of thermoplastic mouth guards. Thermoplastic mouth guards are made by heating the material in water to soften it, then biting into. Unfortunately, they wear quickly and provide an uneven degree of cushioning against impact.
Proper fabrication of a custom mouth guard fitted by your general dentist ensures a perfect fit and affords you the most protection possible. An impression or mold of your teeth is made, allowing the dentist to fabricate the mouth guard on an exact model of your teeth. This is what we do with the Monarchs and this is a practice that is standard with almost every professional sports team.
But you don’t have to a professional athlete to have proper protection. If you are playing a sport at any level, we recommend you see your dentist to have custom-made mouth guard. After all, it’s your teeth and you need them!
Dr. Mark Hochberg is a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. He has also earned Fellowship status from the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology and the International Congress of Oral Implantologists.