Should your athlete be wearing a mouthguard when they are participating in their favorite sports? The answer is probably yes, regardless of what sport they play. Using a mouthguard may help prevent or mitigate oral injuries sustained during all kinds of sports.
Are oral injuries common in youth athletics?
While experts agree that participating in organized sports helps children get exercise, forge social connections, and build self-confidence, parents should be aware that kids who participate in sports are more likely to sustain a significant injury as well. Up to 39 percent of all oral injuries are somehow connected to sports participation, and as many as 20 percent of them are maxillofacial injuries to children and adolescents. Likewise, more than five million teeth are knocked out every year during sporting activities.
Watching your child's tooth fly out is obviously a worst-case scenario, but there are a lot of less obvious injuries as well.
Watching your child's tooth fly out is obviously a worst-case scenario, but there are a lot of less obvious injuries as well. For example, an athlete who wears braces could experience facial lacerations, dental root fractures, or TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dislocation with even the slightest bit of oral trauma. Sports are definitely "worth it," but parents should do all that they can to ensure that athletes are aware of oral injury risks and take preventative measures.
Does my child need a mouthguard if they don't play a contact sport?
Wearing a mouthguard is common sense in combat sports such as wrestling and mixed martial arts, where sustaining head trauma is an expected part of the game. Most youth leagues also mandate mouthguards for sports such as hockey and football, where contact is common even if it isn't the object of the activity.
Dr. Igal Elyassi, of Wilshire Smile Studio in Los Angeles, personally attests to the importance of mouthguards for his son during his participation in sports. “Even in soccer, custom mouthguards are crucial in that they not only protect the mouth and teeth, but the jaw and they lessen impact to the face as well”, says Elyassi.
Extreme sports such as skateboarding and cycling carry the risk of landing head-first on a hard surface at high speed, so wearing a mouthguard during those activities is fairly self-explanatory too. If your athlete does not participate in any of these sports, you may be lulled into a false sense of security.
Unfortunately, many "safer" sports carry at least as much oral injury risk as those perceived as more dangerous. For instance, did you know that baseball is responsible for the most oral injuries for children between the ages of 7 and 12? Players generally wear batting helmets to protect them from errant pitches, but kids can still be struck by a batted or thrown ball, crash into a wall, or simply slip on a wet playing surface.
Adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 are most likely to be injured playing basketball. A basketball is heavy enough to do considerable damage if it hits somebody in the head, and fouls can get pretty rough at all levels of competition (including pick-up games with friends). Similarly, a header in volleyball or soccer can easily go awry if your athlete makes contact at the wrong angle. Since nearly every sport carries some inherent oral injury risk, mouthguards are advisable for all youth athletes regardless of the sport they play.
How can wearing a mouthguard help?
Mouthguards may help protect an athlete's mouth and face by acting as a soft cushion during impact, providing shock absorption that can prevent some injuries while mitigating the severity of others. An athlete is up to 60 times more likely to sustain a significant oral injury while playing sports if they are not wearing a mouthguard, according to the National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends mouthguards for 30 different activities, many of which might take parents by surprise.
The efficacy of mouthguards is also illustrated by the decline in injury rates seen once their use is mandated. According to the National Federation of State High Schools, oral injury rates in sports such as lacrosse, football, and hockey exceeded 50% before mouthguards were mandated. Today, less than 1 percent of participants report any serious oral injuries. It's tough to argue with numbers like that.
How do I select the right mouthguard for my athlete?
The most important factor to consider when choosing a mouthguard is fit. Some products are so uncomfortable that athletes try to get out of wearing them, meaning that they won't be in place when they are needed most. Some athletes also complain that wearing an ill-fitting guard compromises their ability to breathe or communicate with teammates, neither of which are acceptable at game time.
“Custom made sports mouthguards by our dental office are worn more frequently during sports because they fit so well”, says Elyassi. “They also are lost less, because we have your name and favorite team permanently printed on the guard.”
You should also ensure that you choose a product that offers enough shock absorption to make a difference. Many boil-and-bites fit the bill the first time they are molded, but beware of products that lose their retentive properties if molded more than once. Likewise, athletes with braces need to wear protective guards designed with their unique needs in mind.
If your kids participate in youth athletics without a mouthguard, they are facing a substantial risk of oral injury that could be prevented or mitigated with the proper gear. The best thing to do is to encourage your kids to see their mouthguard as another part of their uniform, helping them understand that they should wear it during games, practices, and even informal games with friends.