Mouthguards can help reduce injuries in student athletes

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As student athletes prepare to return to school, it's crucial they wear protective gear, like mouthguards, even when playing sports not usually associated with contact. A properly fitted mouthguard can help save your child's smile and keep them off the injured list.

The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) recommends mouthguards be worn during games and practice sessions. Wearing a mouthguard helps to cushion an impact and reduce injury to the teeth, lips, tongue, face and jaw. They prevent broken and chipped teeth and reduce the possibility of them being knocked out. Mouthguards also protect against bone and root damage, and may reduce the chances of a concussion.  

Dr. Dennis N. Ranalli, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, team dentist for the Pittsburgh Panthers football team and past president of the Academy for Sports Dentistry, says mouthguards are an essential part of sports equipment.

"While mouthguards are only required in amateur sports like football, ice hockey, men's lacrosse, women's field hockey and boxing, they should be worn while playing any contact or collision sport," Dr. Ranalli said. "In order for a mouthguard to be effective, it needs to be used and it needs to be cared for with proper cleaning and storage."

Wearing a mouthguard is especially important for students who have braces. It acts as a barrier between the braces and the cheeks or lips, reducing the risk of lacerations.

Student athletes have a 1 in 10 chance of suffering a facial or dental injury while on the playing field. According to the National Sports and Safety Foundation (NYSSF), student athletes account for a significant part of the 15 million dental injuries and the five million cases of traumatically lost teeth that occur every year. An athlete also is 70 times more likely to sustain damage to the teeth when not wearing a mouthguard and almost one-third of all dental injuries are sports-related, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.

PDA urges both children and adults wear a mouthguard when participating in any sport or recreational activity where injury to the mouth can occur, including football, field hockey, ice hockey, baseball, basketball, softball, wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, in-line skating and martial arts. Mouthguards can also help prevent more serious injuries such as jaw fractures.

An effective mouthguard should be resilient, tear-resistant and protect all the teeth. It should be comfortable, not interfere with breathing or speech and have excellent retention. To ensure a proper fit, a mouthguard is best fitted by a dental professional.

There are three types of mouthguards:

  • Stock mouthguards: least expensive, but offer less protection because the fit adjustment is limited.
  • Boil and bite: when heated and placed in the mouth, the mouthguard molds itself to the teeth and then sets.
  • Custom-made: made by a dentist from a cast of the patient's mouth. They are more expensive, but offer the best protection, fit and comfort.

Dr. Ranalli encourages his patients to invest in a custom-made mouthguard. He says, "The overall cost of a custom fabricated mouthguard is much less expensive than the cost associated with the treatment of a sports dental injury."

Before and after each use, rinse your mouthguard with cold water. It can be cleaned with a toothbrush and toothpaste, and soaked in mouthwash. To minimize distortion and damage, do not leave in direct sunlight and avoid rinsing with hot water. Store the mouthguard in a firm, well ventilated plastic container.

Mouthguards can last for more than one season but they will wear out like any other sports gear, making it less effective. It should be replaced if it no longer fits, has tears or holes and is a source of discomfort.

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