As a dental professional, one of the things that makes me that most sad to see is an accidental injury to a permanent tooth. Unfortunately, those of us in dentistry see this sort of thing all the time, and even more unfortunately many of the injuries we see could have been prevented.
Many of the traumatic dental injuries we see in children and teens are sports related. And the surprising thing is that almost any sport can be the culprit—even ones you’d never suspect. In the course of my career, I’ve seen dental injuries from just about every sport you can think of…even swimming (you’d be amazed how many people hit the bottom or side of a pool with their teeth). By far the worst sports-related dental injury I ever saw was when a young man was playing basketball with his friends and took an elbow to the face, knocking out his front tooth…which he then accidentally swallowed (see the photo below). Yikes. Let’s just say we didn’t put that one back in place after it was recovered…didn’t want that guy to have crappy breath for the rest of his life 🙂
So many of the dental injuries that occur could be prevented by the simple use of an athletic mouth guard. There are tons of these available on the market, but they really boil down to three different types:
1. Generic or “blank” non-customized mouth guards – These are U-shaped plastic bite guards that you buy over the counter and insert over your teeth. They’re generically sized for “average,” so you may not get the best fit, and they typically aren’t very comfortable. But they can certainly help protect you.
2. Boil & Bite mouth guards – These are bought over the counter but are “customized” at home. You boil the plastic for a minute or so and then bite into the softened material to record the shape of your teeth. A dip in cold water stiffens the plastic, and you’ve got a mouth guard that fits your bite. The down side of these is typically the bulk, as they are slightly thicker and can be a little less comfortable. They can also interfere more with your speech.
3. Customized mouth guards made by your dentist/orthodontist – These guards are made for one or both arches of teeth off of a model taken by your dental professional. They can come in varying thicknesses, depending on the sport to be played, and they are custom trimmed to the anatomy of your mouth. They’re typically the best fitting and most comfortable mouth guards available, but you’ll pay a bit more because they are made by a professional.
All three types can come in different colors, so you can pick one to match your team’s color or whatever you’d like. They all have their pros and cons, but any one of them will provide protection for your teeth.
If your child has braces, then #2 above isn’t an option—the teeth are constantly moving, so a boil & bite mouth guard may fit for a week or two, but typically won’t fit well after that as the teeth will change position. Option #1 or #3 are the best for orthodontic patients. Our office offers mouth guards from Shock Doctor that are specifically designed for patients with braces, and we also offer the customized guards as well (we can adjust the model of the teeth to account for movement so that the customized guard will fit even with some tooth movement).
The main concern with orthodontic patients and sports isn’t usually damage to the teeth, although that can certainly occur. I’ve seen many cases where the braces themselves protected or even saved teeth from loss by absorbing and distributing the force of a blow to the teeth. The main help that mouth guards give to orthodontic patients is protection from soft tissue damage—if a ball, bat, stick, racket, etc hits a mouth with braces, the lips and cheeks being pushed into the braces can turn those tissues to hamburger in a heartbeat. I once met a patient at our office for an emergency visit because her lip was literally stuck in her braces after getting hit in the mouth. Peeling your lip out of your braces isn’t a fun experience, so wearing a mouth guard can save you a lot of headache (and lip ache, too).
Some dental injuries involve the actual knocking out of a tooth. If this happens, call your dentist immediately and ask them to meet you at their office to help. If you can find the tooth, place it in milk, water, or have your child keep the tooth in his or her mouth until you can get to the dentist so that they can try to put the tooth back into place. The best material to store a knocked-out tooth in is actually a liquid called Hank’s Balanced Salt Solution, which can be purchased online. If your child is on a sports team, ask the coach to buy some or supply it yourself for the team just in case.
The point is this—accidents happen in sports, but accidents involving the teeth can have lifelong consequences. Damage to a permanent tooth is like a permanent haircut—once it’s done, it’s done, and it never repairs itself. Simply using a mouth guard can prevent a lifetime of problems that result from a sports related injury. If you have a child that’s involved in any sort of sporting activity, do the Smarty thing and make the investment in a mouth guard so that you can worry about one less thing while you’re cheering him or her on to victory.
You can find our Smarty Favorite Hull & Coleman Orthodontics at:
Read Jen Plym’s tips for when your child first gets braces.
7800 Providence Road, Suite 201
Charlotte, NC 28226
Wesley Chapel Office
5941 Weddington Road
Wesley Chapel, NC 28104
You can always find them on facebook.