Prevention the key in dental injuries

With the change in weather comes the beginning of the summer sports season – an appropriate time to think about prevention of dental injuries associated with participation in sports.

The statistics on sports-related dental injuries are actually quite alarming, with almost 40 per cent of children in organized sports sustaining dental injuries over the course of their athletic career. Fortunately, the vast majority of dental injuries are completely preventable by wearing properly-fitted mouthguards.

In organized sports such as hockey and football, where mouthguards have become mandatory, there has been a drastic reduction in dental and orofacial injuries, and a significant reduction in concussions. Interestingly, dentists often report seeing more hockey-related dental injuries during practices than during games, simply because mouthguard wear is less strictly enforced. Similarly, there is a trend towards a proportionately greater number of dental injuries in recreational and house league sports (as compared with more competitive ‘rep’ leagues), attributable to lesser enforcement of mouthguard policies.

While hockey and football have been leaders in promoting mandatory mouthguard rules, other organized sports have lagged behind. Soccer and basketball are notable examples – in both of these sports, there is inconsistency in mandatory mouthguard policy from one organization to another.

These two sports share another commonality – while both are technically ‘non-contact’ sports, the reality is that there is plenty of incidental contact, and often at a high rate of speed.

It probably comes as no surprise that other recreational sporting activities are notorious for being high risk for dental injuries, including skateboarding, BMX and mountain biking, rock climbing and even gymnastics. Mouthguard wear is strongly encouraged during these activities, as well as during any other sport or activity where falls or collisions are common.

There are essentially three types of mouthguards available – stock mouthguards, mouth-formed protectors (also known as ‘boil and bite’ mouthguards) and custom-fitted mouthguards.

Stock mouthguards come in a limited number of sizes, and cannot be modified or adapted. As a result, they are usually poor-fitting and are not recommended. Mouth-formed protectors are probably the most commonly used mouthguards, offering the advantages of being relatively inexpensive and adaptable. The drawbacks to these ‘boil and bite’ guards are that they are difficult to trim, less comfortable to wear and easily dislodged. Custom mouthguards are made by a dentist or dental hygienist, and while more expensive to make, they offer the most comfortable and secure fit, and do not interfere with breathing or speaking during wear.

Regardless of what type of mouth protection you choose for yourself or your child, the cost of a well-fitted mouthguard should be looked at in the same way as one looks at insurance: The cost of the mouthguard (the ‘premium’) is insignificant when compared with the cost of the injury.

When we talk about the cost of dental injuries, we are not only speaking of the financial cost of treating dental trauma. Dental injuries often create lifelong consequences, and can affect speech, appearance and self-esteem. Considering the risks, wearing of a properly fitted mouthguard during participation in sports is both simple and inexpensive.

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