Mouthguards protect athletes from dental problems

The potential for sports-related injuries is an unfortunate fact of life for today's athletes and even the part-time athlete or weekend warrior. Dental and facial injuries generally include broken, displaced, or knocked out teeth, especially the front teeth, lacerations or tears of the lips, broken jaws, and damage to the TMJ or jaw-joint. A blow to the chin or other part of the head can give rise to a concussion, an injury to the brain that can cause loss of consciousness, dizziness, or more severe complications. Evaluation and treatment of medical injuries, such as stabilization of all vital functions is the top priority after a sports-related injury, and should be rendered by the team medical doctor or in the emergency room. Dental injuries should be treated as soon as possible. Teeth that are knocked out should be gently cleaned off, but not scrubbed, placed back into the socket or a cup of milk, and you should see your dentist in less than 45 minutes, if possible.

Dentist prescribed, custom-made mouthguards are essential for the prevention of painful and costly sports-related dental and facial injuries, as well as concussions. In fact, an important study by the American Dental Association confirms that 31% of high school basketball players suffered from some form of dental or facial trauma during their careers if they did not wear a mouthguard. Only 4.2% of basketball players reported that they wore a mouthguard at the time of injury, proving a 7-fold improvement of protection. Despite these encouraging statistics, more than 2 million teeth will be knocked out every year, many from athletes who do not wear protective mouthguards.

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Well-fitted, custom-made mouthguards are essential for most sports, especially those that are high contact, such as boxing, football, martial arts, kickboxing, wrestling and street or ice hockey. They are also appropriate for soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, rollerblading, skateboarding, and mountain biking.

Not all mouthguards, however, are created equal. Store-bought, stock and boil-and-bite mouthguards provide some protection at low cost, but they are usually uncomfortable, ill fitting, and can make talking or breathing difficult. It is for this reason that many athletes, including professional football players, do not wear mouthguards. The next time you watch Monday Night Football, keep your eyes on the quarterback. They usually do not wear mouthguards because it interferes with their audibles, huddle instructions and snap counts. For this reason, professional, amateur, and recreational athletes alike, should wear dentist prescribed custom mouthguards.

The procedure for making mouthguards is simple. The dentist takes impressions (molds) of your mouth and has you bite on a piece of wax. Models of your mouth are sent to a lab, and then the mouthguards made. The best type of mouthguard, in my opinion, is composed of layered, heat and pressure laminated ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA). They come in a variety of different layers, and colors. They are strong, comfortable, and allow for easy speaking and breathing, but do cost more than those that are store-bought.

You should discuss with your dentist if you, your spouse, or children are involved in athletic activity. Ask your dentist if he or she has experience making custom mouthguards, or is a member of the Academy of Sports Dentistry. Remember that the cost of a custom mouthguard is far less than for rebuilding or replacing unprotected teeth.

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