As the dog days of summer drag into the first days of fall, young athletes throughout the community are hitting the practice fields, and the joyful sounds of pep rallies and fight songs will soon fill the air.
While there are lots of benefits for the 20 to 25 million American youths who participate in sports, there is also a significant risk of injury, including dental injuries.
- It is estimated that 36% of all accidental injuries to children and teens are caused by sports participation.
- The American Dental Association reports that 10 to 20% of all sports-related injuries are maxillo-facial injuries.
- The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety says that dental injuries are the most common type of orofacial injury caused by sports participation.
Dental injuries often result in permanent damage to the teeth and oral tissues. Athletes are 60 times more likely to sustain damage to teeth when not wearing a mouth guard. To reduce the risk of dental injury, the American Dental Association officially recommends the use of athletic mouth guards for anyone participating in the following sports:
How To Choose the Right Sports Mouth Guard
Sports medicine experts estimate that as many as 80% of athletic mouth guards are ineffective and may even be more dangerous than wearing nothing at all.
Why is that number so high? It turns out that choosing the right dental mouth guard for sports is just as important as the decision to use one in the first place.
The American Dental Association has published the following criteria for an effective athletic mouth guard:
- Fits properly
- Easy to clean
- Does not restrict breathing or speech
Besides failing to offer adequate protection from dental injuries, the wrong mouth guard can actually hurt athletic performance.
- If the athlete is uncomfortable, he or she will focus on the discomfort instead of playing with good technique.
- If the mouth guard restricts breathing, the athlete may not get enough oxygen.
- If the mouth guard impedes speech, it will interfere with effective communication, which can be the difference between winning and losing in many team sports.
So which mouth guard is the right one? For starters, there are three main types of mouth guards:
- Stock mouth guards
- Boil and bite mouth guards
- Custom mouth guards
Stock Mouth Guards
Many athletes and their parents choose to buy a stock mouth guard because it is inexpensive and typically available in most sporting goods stores or big box retailers. Unfortunately, these mouth guards often provide only a false sense of security.
First, they are not customized for individual users and do not fit the athlete’s teeth properly. Second, when the athlete receives a blow, the tray is easily knocked out of place, loses contact with the teeth and fails to protect against dental injuries. Third, uneven coverage means the force of the blow is not evenly distributed across oral tissues, which can worsen any subsequent injury.
Boil and Bite Mouth Guards
A boil and bite mouth guard is heated in hot water, then the athlete bites down on the tray which forms the mouth guard around the shape of the teeth.
Although somewhat customizable, boil and bite mouth guards are not very durable and the athlete often chews through the surface material, making it ineffective. The athlete must also keep his or her jaw together to keep the mouth guard in place, which can affect comfort, concentration and athletic performance.
Custom Mouth Guards
The American Dental Association recommends a custom mouth guard made by a dentist. The dentist makes a mold of the athlete’s teeth for a precise fit and correct thickness.
Custom mouth guards can be tailored for the demands of specific sports, such as football, soccer or basketball. Your dentist can also design your athletic mouth guard to be compatible with braces and other dental appliances.
How To Keep Your Mouth Guard in Shape
The ADA recommends the following habits for getting the most benefit out of your mouth guard:
- Keep your mouth guard clean and dry
- Rinse it before and after use with a toothbrush and toothpaste
- Clean it in cool, soapy water and rinse thoroughly
- Bring it to your dental checkup for evaluation
- Store it in a sturdy container that has vents to keep it dry and free of bacteria
- Never leave a mouth guard in the sun or hot water, which can cause it to lose its shape
- Check for wear and tear and proper fit to see if it needs replacing
- Keep it away from pets, who often think your mouth guard is an appealing toy
Do you have questions about athletic mouth guards for yourself or your child?
Contact us to schedule an appointment with Drs. Davis or Matthews. We will design a custom athletic mouth guard that protects that winning smile comfortably and effectively so you can focus on the game instead of worrying about your teeth!