April is National Facial Protection Month, which coincides with spring’s arrival and increased sports activity, particularly for children. During this month, the dental community is encouraging children and adult sports players to take simple steps to protect their teeth, jaws and smiles.
Children and adults alike spend a lot of time and money gearing up for an active lifestyle. Whether they play a team sport like football, baseball and hockey or engage in recreational activities like biking and rollerblading, one important piece of equipment is often overlooked – a mouth guard.
The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) currently mandates the use of mouth guards in football, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling (for wrestlers wearing braces). The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of the NFHS recommends that athletes consider the use of a properly fitted, unaltered mouth guard for participation in any sport that has the potential for oral-facial injury from body or contact with playing apparatus (stick, bat, ball, etc.).
“If athletes do not take necessary precautions when playing, they are risking injury to the mouth and face,” said Morris N. Poole, DDS, president of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). “Some of these injuries can have a lifelong effect. A mouth guard cushions a blow to the mouth, and can prevent or reduce injuries to teeth and jaws. Their cost is a fraction of costs associated with emergency care of a broken or knocked out tooth.”
A survey commissioned by the AAO found that 84 percent of children do not wear mouth guards while playing organized sports because they are not required to wear them, even though they may be required to wear other protective equipment such as helmets and shoulder pads. Football helmets and baseball bats can cost well over $200, whereas mouth guards are one of the least expensive pieces of protective equipment; some store-bought options can be purchased for less than $20.
“These statistics show that many young athletes are in danger of injuring, or even losing, their teeth,” says Dr. Poole. “They need to wear mouth guards consistently,” he notes. Dentists and dental specialists such as orthodontists can make custom mouth guards, which generally provide the most protection and greatest comfort. Other less-expensive options are boil-and-bite mouth guards, which are softened in boiling water to fit the mouth. There are also ready-to-wear stock mouth guards, but these may be uncomfortable, and may not fit well. Mouth guards cannot protect teeth and jaws if they are not worn.
The AAO recommends the following tips for wearing mouth guards:
- Be sure the mouth guard is comfortable. If it isn’t, shop around for one that is.
- Look for a mouth guard that is durable, tear-resistant and easy to clean.
- Make sure the mouth guard stays in place. No one wants to worry about a loose mouth guard during a game.
- Select a mouth guard that does not restrict breathing or speech.
- Wear the mouth guard at every practice and every game.
A properly fitted mouth guard can prevent or reduce injury to teeth and jaws. Athletes who wear braces or other orthodontic devices should talk with their orthodontist about the type of mouth guard to wear during treatment. Of course, athletes should also wear helmets, protective eyewear and face shields when appropriate.