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Protecting Your Teeth During Sports

Are you doing all you can to protect your teeth or those of your children?

Most of us know that football and soccer both have a high risk of collisions. Collisions can cause teeth to jar together and also have the potential to cause concussions. But you may not think of basketball as a collision sport. Basketball players risk being hit in the mouth by the ball or another player, and for younger players with limited reaches, teeth can become entangled in the net (with disastrous results) if they try to imitate the moves of their favorite NBA players. In fact, each sport has its own dangers to the athlete’s mouth. Most of the sports-related mouth injuries I’ve seen have come from basketball.

One key piece of sports equipment that is often overlooked is the mouthguard. Many parents buy the least expensive mouthguard on the store shelves, especially if their child is still young enough that he or she is losing baby teeth and gaining adult teeth. But is that the best protection for your child?

There are three main types of mouthguards you can buy: “Boil and Bite” mouthguards are heated to soften the material, placed in the mouth and then bitten into to semi customize them, “Stock” mouthguards are purchased ready to wear out of the package, and “Custom” mouthguards are made by a dentist to fit a specific mouth.

Stock Mouthguards are held in the mouth when the wearer bites down on them. Once your teeth come apart, the mouthguard comes out and any protection it provided is lost. Most wearers report that this type of mouthguard feels bulky and interferes with their speech and breathing. Most sports medicine experts feel that this type offers very little actual protection and that the constant biting on it causes it to break down more quickly than other types.

Boil and Bite Mouthguards are the most frequently used; some leagues even purchase them in bulk and give one to each of the team members. There is a bit more retention than with the stock mouthguards, but often the process used to fit them to the wearer’s teeth thins the material and drastically reduces the amount of protection available. This thinning is most noticeable in the area of the back teeth, where it is often needed most if it is to help reduce concussions. Many wearers also complain that the mouthguard feels bulky or interferes with speech or breathing.

Custom Mouthguards are made to fit each individual wearer. Impressions are taken and then models made from those impressions. The mouthguard is made from the model, so material thickness is better controlled to provide the best protection to all your athlete’s teeth. Because it is custom fit to your teeth, it is held in place much better than either of the store bought options and is much better tolerated by the wearer.

With mouthguards you get the protection that you pay for. Though the cost of a custom mouthguard seems high, the cost of treating a tooth injury is often 20 times the cost of a custom mouthguard. And remember, once a tooth is injured, it is injured for life. With the proper care, a custom mouthguard will last longer than its counterparts and will provide significantly more protection. And you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are giving the gift of a healthy smile for a lifetime.

Think of your custom mouthguard as a piece of equipment and treat it as such. Store it away carefully when you’re not using it, and don’t chew on it on the bench or between plays. (This shortens the life of any mouthguard.)

If you feel you must use a boil and bite style mouthguard, ask your dentist if she or he would be willing to do the customizing and fitting for a nominal fee if you provide the kit. (You should take at least 2 boil and bite splints to the office for your appointment.) Some dentists may be willing to order in boil and bite mouthguard kits for you. A dentist will be able to assess whether the material has become too thin during the fitting process for adequate tooth protection. Some dentists are even willing to set aside time for a whole team to come in for the fitting process in exchange for a nominal fee per athlete.

If you have questions about the best type of mouthguard for the sport in which you or your child participate or the types of injuries that can occur, or you would like to schedule a mouthguard fitting, please call my office at 440-960-1940. We see both adults and children at 1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd. W, Lorain, OH.

*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.