Tis the season to discuss mouth guards with young athletes
As the calendar page turns to August, we can see the end of summer, the start of school and the opening whistle for many fall sports.
The timing couldn’t be better to talk to young patients (and their parents) about the mouth guards they wear for sports.
Unprotected teeth can rack up serious injuries – and bills. According to a National Youth Sports Safety Foundation study in 2011, some 3 million teeth were knocked out, fractured or injured in some way through participation in sports games or practices involving collisions and even in casual recreational activities that seem “safe.” Athletes who don’t wear a mouth guard are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth, according to the foundation.
While it seems like an easy fix, wearing a mouth guard is not required for many organized sports. According to a study by the American Association of Orthodontists, there are no rules that a mouth guard should be worn for an astonishing 84 percent of children playing sports.
Since mouth guards have been made mandatory for youth football, lacrosse and field hockey since the 1970s, oral injuries to those players have dropped dramatically. Most injuries today come from such popular sports as baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and gymnastics. Further, female athletes are more at risk of oral and facial injuries than males.
Simply wearing a mouth guard can prevent more than 200,000 oral injuries a year, according to the American Dental Association. But most kids don’t want to wear them because they’re uncomfortable, move around while playing and can make it hard to breathe or speak normally, particularly the “ready-made” and “boil and bite” guards.
Aidan Butler, CEO of GuardLab, recently paired up with Henry Schein and a New York City school to provide free mouth guards to nearly 70 student-athletes.
“It’s really all about comfort and fit,” Butler said in Dentistry Today interview. Old-fashioned mouth guards “are no good for man or beast. They block your airway. One size all fits none, as we say. So we start with accuracy and comfort. It’s seated better from a protection standpoint and from a performance standpoint.”
Thanks to digital technology, creating custom mouth guards can easily be in a dentist’s repertoire.
“We look at mouth guards as a really good addition for dentists who have digital equipment or for dentists who are looking to get into digital dentistry,” said Butler. “You start with a scan and you’re able to produce a product that is not overpriced and of very high quality.”
Dr. Robert Brody, who once was the team dentist for the Miami Dolphins and now is chief clinical officer of Great Expressions Dental Centers in Michigan, wants to remind parents who have put thousands into braces for their child that mouth guards are crucial to protecting that investment.
Brackets and other fixed appliances can be easily damaged, Dr. Brody said in a Dentistry Today article. “A mouth guard not only provides a barrier between braces and cheek or lips, it also prevents costly repairs to a broken bracket – something many parents don’t consider before sending their child out to practice or compete,” he said.
Dr. Brody also advocates the use of helmets, particularly those with face masks, to protect injuries to the head, face and teeth.
Dentists could play a crucial role in serving young patients and their parents by putting together educational materials that explain the importance of guards in protecting teeth, Dr. Brody said.
“Consider offering a discount on mouth guards or inviting a specialist to properly fit helmets for patients during their dental visit, making it easier on families to secure the gear they need,” he said.The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions?
Email topics you wish to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.