According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), 10-39% of all childhood dental injuries are related to sports. The risk of sports related dental injuries can never be fully eliminated. Through taking simple precautions like acquiring the correct protective gear, however, the severity and rate of occurrence of these injuries can be significantly reduced. Specifically, mouth guards function to mitigate a blow to the face, lessening the probability of broken teeth and injuries to the jaw, lips, and tongue. For kids taking part in organized sports or other recreations, becoming educated on how to avert these preventable injuries is particularly important. Our dental topics page provides other information on tips & safety during pediatric dentistry.
Mouth Guards Prevent Sports Related Dental Injuries
Aside from being inconvenient and painful, sports related dental injuries can be very costly to repair. These types of injuries must often be treated as emergencies and require urgent treatment for multiple reasons. For example, tooth avulsion is one of the most serious forms of sports related dental injury. This is when the tooth is totally knocked out of the mouth and requires long-term treatment, in order to be restored to a healthy and aesthetically pleasing condition. The long term cost for this type of tooth restoration is approximated to range anywhere from $5,000-$20,000. Additionally, the hassle of a child having to miss school for dental treatment and follow up appointments increases the inconvenience of dealing with both a costly and routine disrupting injury.
Benefits Of Using a Protective Mouth Guard
Mouth guards notably lessen the severity and occurrence of dental injuries related to sports and recreational activities. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a protective mouth guard should be designed to shield “lips and intraoral tissues from bruising and laceration, to protect the teeth from crown fractures, root fractures, luxation and avulsions, to protect the jaw from fracture and dislocations, and provide support for edentulous space.” Operating as and absorber and diffuser of impact energy, the mouth guard usually covers the upper teeth to help keep the jaw from dislocating and to even reduce the risk of concussion. Simply put, mouth guards cushion the impact that otherwise might cause serious injury to the teeth and mouth.
An athlete is 60 times more likely to experience a dental injury when not wearing a mouth guard. Typically, mouth guards are used in contact sports like football, hockey, lacrosse, and wrestling, but they are also definitely recommended and serve a protective purpose for non-contact sports like skateboarding, gymnastics, basketball, etc. From a young age, any athlete at risk for acquiring injury within their sport should consider using a mouth guard as part of their regular sports equipment.
Types of Mouth Guards
The three types of mouth guards include:
- Custom-fitted—The pediatric dentist or orthodontist makes this type of mouth guard by first taking a mold of the child’s jaw and then fashioning a guard to specifically fit him or her. These are typically a bit more costly than other more generic mouth guards, but they offer the best protection due to the custom fit. Ultimately, they are worth the extra cost and the very best option for your child.
- Boil and bite—These mouth guards can be found at many drug stores or sporting good stores. They present the next best option to a custom-fitted mouth guard, because they are softened in boiling water before they are placed in the child’s mouth. When the child bites down, the mouth guard molds around the child’s teeth and jaw providing a semi custom fit due to its adaptable shape.
- Stock—This type of mouth guard is the cheapest, and it also offers the least protection. They come ready to wear and pre-molded, which leaves them unable to fit very well. They are not recommended because they are also bulky and can cause breathing issues during sport activity.
Ask the pediatric dentist about what type of mouth guard is best for your child. A mouth guard that fits correctly may be particularly important for children who wear braces or have other dental appliances.
Caring For Your Mouth Guard
It is important for your child to take care of their mouth guard and keep it as clean as possible. Here are a few tips for caring properly for a mouth guard:
- Keep your mouth guard sanitized—It is recommended to rinse the mouth guard before and after each use. It is even better to also clean the mouth guard with a toothbrush and toothpaste between uses. Also, it is necessary to periodically wash the mouth guard with soap and water thoroughly.
- Use a container—Keep and transport the mouth guard in a plastic container that has vents.
- Do not leave the mouth guard in hot water for too long or out in the sun.
- When a mouth guard starts looking worn or if it chips, it may need replacing.