According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, sports-related dental injuries account for more than 600,000 emergency room visits each year (www.cdc.gov).
As we approach the school sports season, I wanted to focus this month's article on protecting the smiles of young athletes. As important as a helmet, shielding your child's teeth from impact trauma could spare them a great deal of pain and costly procedures.
Teeth are tough - but not THAT tough...
Teeth are designed to bite together in alignment and grind side-to-side as they work together to create powerful chewing forces. They are, however, vulnerable to blows that strike the facial aspect, or front of the tooth.
- When you receive a blow to the mouth, be it due to human contact, a fall or encountering a hard object such as a fast-moving baseball, the teeth receive a jolt they are not prepared for.
- Depending on the angle of the blow, teeth may break. But, even if they don't break, the nerves and blood vessels that keep the tooth vital and firmly in place may become severely “bruised”. Often this results in permanent damage, requiring root canal and crown procedures to repair and save the tooth.
In facial trauma, teeth can become an unyielding hard surface. Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body - when the soft tissue of the lips and face hit the teeth, you get a “split lip”. For patients with orthodontic wires and brackets, this can be a double-whammy.
Not to use scare tactics, but even more serious injuries are possible: In addition to broken teeth, a hard blow to the mouth and teeth can cause jaw fractures, with potential complications that include cerebral hemorrhage, concussion or neck injuries if the lower jaw gets jammed into the upper jaw.
Dentists recommend the use of a sports mouthguard, a flexible appliance that is worn in athletic and recreational activities to help protect teeth from trauma. Mouthguards typically are worn on the upper arch and nudge soft tissue in the oral cavity away from the teeth; this helps prevent laceration and bruising of the lips and cheeks, especially for those who wear orthodontic appliances. They may also reduce the severity and incidence of related concussions in head trauma.
In what sports should my child wear a mouthguard?
Anytime there is a chance for contact with other players or hard surfaces, it is a good idea to wear a mouthguard. Athletes who participate in basketball, softball, football, hockey, wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, in-line skating and martial arts, as well as recreational sports such as skateboarding and bicycling, should wear mouthguards while engaged in these activities.
With any mouth appliance, if it is not well-fitted, it can impair breathing and speech. And, if a blow to the face occurs, an ill-fitted mouthguard may become dislodged and thus become ineffective.
Types of Mouthguards:
1. Over-the-Counter Mouthguards. These come in a few varieties, the standard stock, non-fitted version being the least effective (and not recommended). “Boil and bite” mouthguards are designed to be warmed in hot water and fitted in the mouth by pressing the softened acrylic to mold it to the teeth; the acrylic is then set by running cool water over the guard.
2. Custom-fitted Mouthguards. Custom-fitted mouth protectors are designed by a dentist to snugly fit your child's mouth. They are more expensive, but because they are customized, it is possible to achieve a better fit than over-the-counter types.
One of the common problems with any dental appliance is the risk of oral exposure to harmful surface bacteria that can accumulate if good hygiene practices are not followed. Here are some great mouthguard care tips from KnowYourTeeth.com:
- Clean the mouthguard by washing it with soap and cool (not hot) water. Before storing, soak it in mouthwash.
- When not in use, the mouthguard should be stored in a plastic storage box that has several holes in it and allowed to dry.
- Heat is bad for a mouthguard; don't leave it in direct sunlight or in a closed automobile.
- Don't bend the mouthguard when storing.
- Never let your child handle or wear someone else's mouthguard.