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Why Mouth Guards Matter

There is a disconnect between parents’ concern for their children’s safety while playing sports and the protective equipment kids currently use in most sports. According to a survey by the American Association of Orthodontists, 67% of parents say that their child does not wear a mouth guard, while 70% of parents said that their biggest fear is that their child will get hurt while playing sports.

According to Sportsdentistry.com, an athlete is 60 times more likely to sustain damage to the teeth when not wearing a protective mouth guard. Orthodontists want kids to get into the natural habit of wearing mouth guards to play sports. “It’s a good common sense public health decision, like wearing a seat belt or wearing a helmet,” says Vanessa Morenzi, DMD, of Haddonfield, NJ. '

“Mouth guards are a good way to prevent or minimize damage,” says Kevin Charles, executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA).

The Three Main Types of Mouth Guards

1. Stock mouth guards are available for sale at sporting goods stores. They are ready to wear with no customization by the user. Most people find they don’t stay in place well, and they provide only minimal protection.
Cost: $3-$25
• Fits easily over orthodontic appliances
• Fits poorly
• Easily dislodged
• Minimal protection

2. Boil and Bite mouth guards are customized by boiling in water and then biting into the pliable material to mold it after it cools. They are available at drug stores and sporting goods stores.
Cost: $1-$40
• Inexpensive
• Form-fitted
• Deteriorate over time 
• May not last an entire season 
• May put pressure on cheeks and gums if not fitted well
3. Custom-fit mouth guards are available only from dentists and are more expensive because they require multiple dental visits. They provide the greatest level of protection because they are customized.
Cost: $100-$300
• Most accurate fit         
• Most comfortable
• Offers the most protection
• Most expensive
• Requires several trips to
the dentist


The American Dental Association recommends wearing mouth guards for acrobatics, basketball, boxing, field hockey, football, gymnastics, handball, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, racquetball, roller hockey, rugby, shot putting, skateboarding, skiing, skydiving, soccer, squash, surfing, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling.

Baseball and softball are not on this list, but perhaps they should be. Some doctors and dentist urge athletes to wear mouth guards in any sport where there is a good chance to collide with a ball, a piece of equipment or another player.

Why Wear a Mouth Guard?

Mouth guards protect against :
• Fractured teeth
• Knocked out teeth
• Broken facial bones
• Lip lacerations (those with braces have a higher risk of this injury)
• Possibly, concussions, although this is not yet proven. Mouth guards may mitigate the forces of impact to the jaw that cause some concussions.

“Mouth guards are part of the culture in football, but for basketball or soccer, it’s not the same,” says Dr. Milo Sewards, MD, a sports medicine physician at Temple University Hospital. Student athletes may wear a mouth guard if they choose. “I’m not aware of any rule book that would call mouth guards illegal equipment,” says Charles.

Mouth guards are recommended for contact sports by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which sets rules and standards for high school sports. There has been talk of legislation to enforce mouth guard usage for young athletes, but no such laws have passed. Organizations such as the DIAA mandate mouth guards for contact sports during competition, but it’s up to coaches and the players to enforce mouth guard usage during practice, which is also important.

There are few disadvantages to wearing a mouth guard. “Some athletes, volleyball players for instance, think you can’t communicate as well with a mouth guard,” says Charles. But “once you get used to wearing a mouth guard, it’s not too big a deal,” says Dr. Sewards.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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