When playing a contact sport, it’s only a manner of time before someone’s mouth connects with a bat, ball, helmet or elbow. It is estimated that more than 200,000 oral injuries can by prevented each year just by wearing protective mouth gear when participating in practice or a game. This is the main reason why the American Dental Association endorses mouthguard use.
The next time your young athlete complains about wearing a mouthguard, ask them to think of their smile, without their front teeth, on their next school picture day. And, share this tidbit from The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety: An athlete is 60 times more likely to sustain damage to their teeth when not wearing mouth gear.
Besides helping to save their pearly whites for photo opportunities, mouthguards can help athletes prevent injury to their tongue, lips, and cheeks, as well as provide protection for them against jaw fractures and neck injuries.
While many might agree that a mouth guard is an important piece of equipment, wearing one is another matter. A troubling survey by Delta Dental noted many young athletes don’t wear them – even in sports requiring protective gear. Here are the statistics:
- Football – only seven out of 10 caregivers (70 percent) reported that their child wears a mouth guard at both practice and games.
- Hockey – only about four in 10 (44 percent) said that their child wears a mouth guard for practice and games.
- Soccer, Basketball, Baseball and Softball – nearly seven out of 10 Americans (68 percent) said their child does not wear a mouth guard at softball practices or games.
More alarming still was that only about two out of 10 children (22 percent) only wear a mouth guard at games, not practice. This is really scary as Safe Kids USA says most organized sports-related injuries occur during practice rather than games.
The Right Fit Makes All the Difference
So, what’s keeping our young Milwaukee area athletes from wearing protective mouth gear? A common complaint I hear is: “Mouth guards make me gag!” However, a properly fitted one shouldn’t do that.
A properly fitted mouth guard should be:
- durable and tear resistant,
- easy to clean,
- able to easily stay in place, and
- not restricting in an athlete’s breathing or speech.
Usually, a mouth guard is only used for the top teeth. Talk to your dentist if both a top and bottom guard should be created to protect special dental work. Or, if your athlete wears braces, your orthodontist may create one that protects the teeth as well as provides a barrier between their brackets and the soft tissue inside the mouth.
A pre-formed or boil and bite mouth guard can also be picked up rather inexpensively at most sporting goods or drug stores. Follow directions on the package to fit it both safely and properly.
Just as important as using a mouth guard is taking care of it. Be sure to:
- Have It Handy. Purchase a vented container for the mouth guard so that it can be easy to find in a sports bag. At the very least, if playing a sport that requires a helmet with a face guard, get a strap to attach to the mouth guard to the face guard so it doesn’t get easily lost.
- Keep It Clean. Rinse off the mouth guard with mouthwash at the end of each practice or game to get rid of bacteria, and about once a week, give it a quick clean using a toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Try Not to Chew It. Have a couple of mouth guards made at the beginning of the sports season if your child tends to chew on his or her mouth guard. Check for wear and tear and replace it along the way.
Besides making sure the mouth guard fits comfortably, another way we can encourage our young athletes to wear a mouth guard is to have coaches reinforce this simple rule: no mouth guard, no play.
In addition, parents who also participate in a recreational contact sport should practice what they preach. Whether participating in football, lacrosse, hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, or the myriad of other sporting activities offered today for young or old, wearing a properly fitted mouth guard will reduce the chance of a having major dental repair work done if a sports collision occurs.
Finally, if you are unsure your mouth guard fits properly, bring it to the dentist for a quick inspection. I offer this as a FREE service to all of my patients, and can also make a custom-fitted guard so that your athlete’s smile looks great both on and off the field!