There are countless health benefits to youth sports, including reduced risk of diabetes, increased physical fitness, and reduced levels of stress. However, most sports do come with some injury risk, including injuries to an athlete’s teeth and mouth. In an effort to help educate athletes and their families about those risks, Blackstone Family Dentistry is here to help reduce the chances of injury to the athlete’s teeth and mouths.
Common sports-related facial injuries
Besides the pain and trauma, sports-related dental injuries are costly and can lead to time away from school or work. The most common types of facial injuries to athletes are tooth trauma and nose and mandible fractures. More than 5 million teeth are damaged or lost each year during sporting events! Trauma to the lips, tongue, and soft tissue inside the mouth are also common.
Mouth injuries can lead to severe complications if left untreated. Damaged teeth require special treatment, and your mouth contains natural bacteria that can cause infections in damaged gums, tongue, or soft tissue.
Fortunately, your mouth has a rich blood supply, which promotes fast healing. Modern dental technology also makes it easier to repair damaged teeth.
Wearing a mouthguard is the best defense
Anyone who plays organized sports should wear a soft mouthguard (especially if they play contact sports or sports that involve bats, rackets, sticks, or hard balls). Mouthguards minimize the risk of broken, chipped, or lost teeth and nerve damage. They can also prevent soft tissue damage in your mouth.
Athletes who wear mouthguards are at least 80% less likely to suffer serious dental injuries compared to athletes who choose to play without a mouthguard.
Types of mouthguards
There are three main categories of sports mouthguards on the market.
“Over the counter” mouthguards are available at most sporting goods stores and many pharmacies. They come in generic sizes and usually stay in place when the athlete clenches their teeth together.
Over-the-counter mouthguards are the cheapest option on the market, but they offer minimal protection. Because the wearer must clench their teeth together to hold the mouthguard in place, it can be difficult to breathe and speak and may lead to teeth grinding and clenching habits. Despite all the disadvantages of over the counter mouthguards, they are better than nothing.
“Boil-and-bite” mouthguards are made from a material that becomes moldable when heated. This allows athletes to form the mouthguard to their teeth using their fingers and bite pressure. The custom fit provides more comfort and better protection than over the counter mouthguards. “Boil-and-bite” mouthguards usually stay in place on their own, making it easier to breathe and speak while wearing them.
The “boil-and-bite” guards are easy to find at most sporting goods stores and online. They are the best blend of comfort, protection, and affordability.
Custom mouthguards are the most expensive option on the market. A dentist creates the mouthguard using an impression of the athlete’s mouth, to achieve the perfect fit and maximum protection from trauma to the teeth and soft tissue.
While custom mouthguards offer the best protection, they are not cost-effective. Young athletes may need new mouthguards frequently as their mouths grow and teeth shift.
It is best to speak with your dentist about the best mouthguard options for your unique needs.
Mouthguards and orthodontics
Braces and orthodontics increase the potential for injury to the face, mouth, and teeth. A mouthguard for braces will protect the athlete’s teeth and soft tissue and help prevent broken braces. Speak with your orthodontist about mouthguards that will offer the right protection.
“Boil-and-bite” mouthguards are usually the best option for athletes with braces. Some brands offer mouthguards with extra coverage for braces.
Do not wear retainers or removable orthodontics while playing sports unless specifically instructed by your orthodontist.
What to do if a tooth gets knocked out
If an athlete gets a tooth knocked out, it is essential to act quickly. Teeth begin to die within 15 minutes of being removed.
Find the tooth as quickly as possible and only touch the white chewing surface. Do not touch the root or “inside” of the tooth. Gently rinse the tooth with clean water if it is dirty. Do not use any soap or chemicals. Do not scrub and do not wrap the tooth in a cloth or tissue.
If possible, put the tooth back into the socket. Gently push the tooth in and hold the tooth in place with your fingers or by biting down as carefully as possible.
If you cannot put the tooth back in the socket, keep it in milk, put it in an emergency tooth preservation kit, or tuck it in your mouth next to your cheek until you get to the emergency room.
Sports Drinks and Dental Health
In addition to injury concerns, another dental issue related to athletics is the use of sports drinks and their impact on oral health.
Sports drinks have a high sugar content and are very acidic, which weakens the enamel of your teeth. This increases your risk of cavities over time.
Instead of reaching for sports drinks, drink plenty of water, and eat a balanced diet. Eating a piece of fruit like a banana can be just as beneficial as drinking sports drinks and be healthier for your teeth. Save the Gatorade for scorching days and when exercising strenuously for more than an hour. When you do decide to use sports drinks, take a swig of water after drinking the sports drink to help wash the sugars away.
In summary, in most cases the benefits of playing sports far outweigh the risks, especially if athletes take common sense precautions like wearing mouthguards, avoiding consumption of too many sugary drinks, and scheduling routine dental cleanings every six months.