High-impact sports like football and hockey have had a long association with concussions, broken jaws and knocked-out teeth. But they no longer lead the sports pack in facial trauma. "The sports with the most orafacial injuries are not football and hockey any more because mouth guards are mandatory,” says Robert Peracchia, D.D.S., assistant clinical professor at Columbia University's Department of Pediatric Dentistry. “The most injurious sports to the head, face and teeth are basketball and baseball." According to the latest research by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), less than 1 percent of youth football injuries involve the teeth or oral cavity, while those facial areas account for nearly 35 percent of youth basketball injuries in male athletes. Female athletes are sustaining injuries at even higher rates than their male counterparts, with women’s lacrosse reporting the highest percentage of injuries resulting in concussion and women’s soccer with the second highest percentage, according to a Temple University study. The solution? The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advocates the use of mouth guards in any activity that poses risk of facial injury. Properly fitted mouth guards absorb shock from a fall or a blow, protecting teeth, lips, cheeks, jaw and tongue, as well as preventing neck and central nervous system trauma, such as concussion.
Getting the Right Fit Three types of mouth guards are available:
• Stock mouth guards, which can be purchased at most sporting goods outlets, are the least expensive. They are also the least effective, as the athlete must keep his or her mouth closed to keep these mouth guards in place. • “Boil and bite” mouth guards, which are most common, are softened by boiling, cooled, then placed in the mouth to create a somewhat form-fit. Athletes usually must remove these mouth guards to breathe while running, as well as to speak.
• Custom-made mouth guards offer the greatest protection as well as the most comfortable fit. Formed from an impression of the child’s mouth, a custom mouth guard is made of “multi-laminate and vacuum-formed to the teeth,” Dr. Peracchia explains. “The edges are finished, so it’s a perfect fit to the gums and the teeth."
An impression of your child’s mouth is made during a regular office visit of about 15 minutes, For a child who plays several sports, additional reinforcement can be built into the mouth guard near the incisal area, near the front of the teeth — a high-impact area, Dr. Peracchia explains. Custom-made mouth guards are graded according to the intensity of the sport, so prices can vary. suggests parents opt for the grade that most suits not only their child’s sport(s), but his or her age and development as well. “Typically, for kids who still have baby teeth, the mouth guard is only going to be good for one season,” he says, so you would be best to look at just a basic mouth guard for a younger child. “Even with the most basic custom-made mouth guard, the child can breathe well and not worry about the mouth guard coming out when they’re talking or running around. It’s a big advantage.” LoPro FEM from Brain-Pad, Inc. has introduced the first dual channel mouth guard designed especially for girls and women athletes. The new mouth guard, which allows for a do-it-yourself custom fit, protects both the upper and lower teeth and the surrounding tissues, stabilizes and cushions the player’s lower jaw, and absorbs blows to the face, chin and base of the skull. This protects the player from lower jaw impacts that can be transmitted to the brain, resulting in concussions. Unlike traditional mouth guards, the LoProFEM has a breathing channel which opens up air passages and allows for 100 percent more oxygen intake while maintaining a stable jaw position. A youth size that can be molded to fit over braces is also available. The LoProFEM retails for $12.95 in sporting goods stores.