Sporting activities offer a variety of benefits, but many of them have a high risk for dental injuries that can be devastating to any athlete. These injuries can range from a minor tooth chip to complete avulsion (knocking out) of a tooth. Unlike soft tissue trauma, dental trauma frequently requires lifelong follow-up treatment.
Dental injuries occur often enough to deserve our attention. Children and youths are especially at higher risk for these injuries due to an increase in risk-taking behavior and undeveloped coordination and skill levels. Among people between 6 and 20 years old, 18.4 percent had sustained at least one dental injury.
Sports-related incidents can account for 38 percent of all childhood dental injuries. In intercollegiate athletes, a USC study of oral injuries reported an incidence rate of 10.6 injuries per 100 basketball players per season.
Despite the available research, the use of protective mouthguards has not been widely adopted yet. Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association only mandates mouthguard use in five sports – football, men’s ice hockey, men’s lacrosse, women’s field hockey and women’s ice hockey, while the American Dental Association recommends mouthguards in 29 sports.
A Canadian study conducted on a sample of Ontario schoolchildren between 12 and 14 years old found that only 5.5 percent of children wore mouthguards for school sports. This underuse has been mostly attributed to the lack of awareness about the benefits of wearing properly fitted mouthguards.
Mouthguards can minimize the risk of trauma to teeth by providing a resilient, protective surface to distribute and dissipate forces on impact. There is more than one type available. According to a report by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, ready-made stock mouthguards fit loosely over the teeth requiring the athlete’s mouth to be closed, which can interfere with breathing and speaking.
Self-adapted, boil-and-bite ones may become dangerously thin in critical areas if not properly formed, losing the thickness necessary for protective cushioning. Professionally-made custom mouthguards are still considered to be the most protective option.
To ensure the proper use of these protective appliances, a collaborative effort between dentists, coaches and parents is necessary. The key message should be that the best mouthguard is the one worn properly. Compliance checks still must come from coaches and parents who are actually present at events.
— Samer Alassaad is in private dental practice in Davis. Contact him at [email protected]