Athletic Mouthguards

People say that having children involved in sports is expensive.  In dentistry, we commonly see one of the most expensive aspects of sports: injuries.  The bad news is that the injuries themselves are sometimes unavoidable.  The good news is that the damage to the teeth, gums, lips, cheeks and jaws associated with sports injuries is largely preventable by wearing an athletic mouthguard.

Sports injuries to the face are very common and very expensive.  A research study on the use of athletic mouthguards cited some interesting statistics.

“The U.S. surgeon general’s report on oral health identified sporting activities as one of the “principal causes of craniofacial injuries.” Studies have linked sporting activities to nearly one-third of all dental injuries, and approximately one in six sports-related injuries is to the craniofacial area.”

Who needs an athletic mouthguard?

Most people associate sports injuries to the teeth with contact sports like football and hockey.  Interestingly, even non-contact sports such as baseball, gymnastics and cycling have a high incidence of injuries to the mouth.  If there is any chance you could be hit in the mouth by another person, a ball, or the ground, then you need an athletic mouthguard.

How do athletic mouthguards work?

Mouthguards work to prevent or lessen the severity of many types of damage to the mouth that can occur during a sports injury to the face and jaws.  They function by covering the teeth, separating the lips and cheeks from the teeth, and separating the upper and lower teeth from each other.  These three mechanisms of action are listed below with which types of injuries they can prevent or lessen the severity.

  • Covering the teeth – This covering prevents or lessens the severity of various injuries to teeth. Examples of injuries to the teeth during sports include:
    • Chipping
    • Luxation (forced movement of the tooth out of its natural position)
    • Root fractures
    • Avulsion (a tooth is knocked completely out with the entire root)
    • Intrusion (a tooth being forced into its socket so that it looks shorter than normal)
    • Necrosis (death of the nerves and blood vessels inside a tooth from blunt force)
  • Separating the lips and cheeks from the teeth – This separation prevents or lessens the severity of various injuries to the soft tissues of the mouth.
    • Cuts or lacerations to gum tissue, lips, cheeks, and intraoral muscle attachments
  • Separating the upper and lower teeth from each other – This separation prevents or lessens the severity of various injuries to the teeth and jaw joints by preventing a harsh impact of upper and lower teeth and jaws.
    • Condylar fractures – The condyles are the “balls” of the ball-and-socket jaw joints. A sharp impact between the upper and lower jaws can cause a fracture of the jaw bone just underneath the condyle.
    • Dislocation of TMJ (jaw joint) disc – The jaw joints each contain a small cartilage disc that separates the ball from the socket. When the lower jaw is hit with an impact, it can force the condyle (ball) off its correct position on the disc.  This leads to TMJ dysfunction and may require surgical intervention to repair.
    • Broken back teeth – Any time the upper and lower teeth are forced together with high forces, the back teeth can crack and break. Sometimes, they can be repaired through dental restorations; in other cases, the tooth has a hopeless long-term prognosis and must be extracted.

An important thing to note is that these problems can have long-term consequences requiring dental treatment for decades after the injury.

What types of athletic mouthguards are available?

There are three main types of mouthguards: stock, boil-and-bite, and custom.  The stock and boil-and-bite type mouthguards are available over the counter, and a dentist makes the custom mouthguard.  Because a custom mouthguard is made from a model of a patient’s teeth, it will have a better fit and should be very comfortable.  There is typically a direct correlation between cost and comfort; i.e. a stock mouthguard will be very inexpensive and very uncomfortable.  The more comfortable a mouthguard is, the more likely the athlete will be to wear it regularly.

How do I take care of my athletic mouthguard?

  • Do not clench on the mouthguard or chew it while you are wearing it. This will speed up the normal wear and tear and cause you to need a replacement much sooner than average.
  • After every use, rinse it. The best thing to do is to clean it with a soft toothbrush and cold water.  You can use liquid hand soap if necessary.
  • When not in use, store it in its vented case in a cool, dry area.
  • Do not allow it to get hot because it will lose its shape. This includes leaving it in your car!

Does your sports-playing child need an athletic mouthguard?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will discuss which risks go with your child’s specific sport and give you recommendations to reduce his or her chance of injuries to the teeth.

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