Protect your smile- wear a mouthguard!

One of my passions over the years has been to advocate the use of custom mouthguards for all recreational & organized sports. As a former collegiate basketball player, I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of dental trauma during basketball games. As an orthodontist in private practice, I meet patients every year that sustain significant dental injuries during activities ranging from basketball to snowboarding. The costs associated with repairing these injuries can range from $1,000-$10,000, while the cost for a high end custom mouthguard to prevent these injuries is relatively low.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates approximately 7 million sports & recreation related injuries occur each year, with half of those injuries being sustained by youth between the ages of 5-24. The American Association of Orthodontists reports that baseball, soccer, basketball, and football account for about 80% of all sports related emergency room visits for children between the ages 5-14. In Central Oregon, I would venture to guess that snowboarding & skiing injuries would also be included in that statistic.

Despite these impressive numbers, I have continued to wonder why more athletes do not wear mouthguards. In my opinion, the issue comes down to awareness and quality. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, 67% of parents say their child does not wear a mouthguard- yet, 70% say their biggest fear when their child plays is that they will get hurt. The AAO also reports that 84% of parents whose children do not wear a mouthguard say it’s because the league or coach does not require it. These statistics suggest that the importance of custom mouthguards is not being conveyed to the public, i.e. awareness is lacking. In response to this need, the American Association of Orthodontists has teamed up with the National Alliance for Youth Sports and hall of fame football player, Emmit Smith, to begin a national campaign to increase awareness regarding the importance of mouthguards. Similar to seatbelts and helmets, increased awareness & usage of mouthguards will take time.

Aside from awareness, the second obstacle to routine mouthguard wear is quality. Most of us only think of mouthguards in terms of the ones that are removed from a plastic package, placed in boiling water, and then adapted poorly to our mouths. These “boil and bite” mouthguards, according to the American Dental Association, do not satisfy the minimum standard of care requirements for protection, fit, and comfort. The American Dental Association and I advocate the use of custom mouthguards. Unlike the “out of the package” mouthguards, custom mouthguards are made from an actual model of the athlete’s mouth. The custom mouthguards fulfill all of the criteria for adaptation, retention, comfort, and stability of material.

In our orthodontic practice, I personally fabricate each custom mouthguard in order to ensure the highest quality and to be sure that the specific design is appropriate for the indicated sport, i.e. a football mouthguard will be designed differently than a basketball mouthguard. I would encourage all athletes to consider wearing a custom mouthguard during all recreational & organized sports.

How far would you go to protect your child during sports?

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