Preventing Injuries: Mouth Guards by Lynn White, January 1, 2017
“What you don’t know can’t hurt you” – unless we’re talking about preventable
(or at least minimizable) sports injuries. Risks are an inherent part of life.
Contact sports like hockey elevate those risks. Fortunately, sports medicine
and technological advances have evolved to help keep players safer than ever
before. If the health and safety of your player means something to you, then
familiarizing yourself with some basic but important safety precautions is
essential. This article focuses on the use of mouth guards to prevent
oral-facial injuries and concussions.
According to Dr. Tyler Albrecht of Cedar View Pediatric Dentistry in Cedar City,
Utah, the three most common oral-facial injuries seen in children and adults
who play contact sports are broken or fractured jaws, broken or chipped top
front teeth, and tongue lacerations. These injuries are more common in children than in adults because children’s heads are disproportionately larger than adults. As a result, children’s heads are more likely to fall forward leading to head-related injuries. Teenagers are even more likely than younger children to sustain such injuries because, on the whole, they play more aggressively. Approximately 95% of these injuries can be prevented or minimized with the proper use of a mouth guard. And note that mouth guards are important at any age. Many parents commonly believe that protecting baby teeth is not important. After all, they are going to be replaced with adult teeth. “Not so”, says Albrecht. “Baby teeth are placeholders for permanent teeth. If knocked out, the adult tooth will probably come in crooked. Moreover, trauma to a baby tooth, if sufficient, could permanently damage the permanent tooth underneath. Protecting baby teeth with a mouth guard is an investment in the future health of their permanent adult teeth”.
Orthodontists are no strangers to oral fascial injuries either. “Although children typically heal faster than adults, their injuries tend to be more severe” according to Dr. Cody Wilson of Wilson and Whetten Orthodontics in Cedar City, Utah. “Children are still developing dentally, skeletally, and neurologically. Mouth guards provide dental protection and jaw stabilization to limit the severity of the injury”. Dr. Wilson recommends purchasing mouth guards that are adequately thick and require a costume fit. Typically, these are mouth guards that need to be boiled then fitted to mold to the player’s mouth. If a child loses a baby tooth, the mouth guard should be re-molded to ensure a proper fit. Players with braces require mouth guards that specifically state that they are for people with braces. Unlike regular mouth guards, these brace-fitting guards
cover the upper and lower teeth. Between them, a channel is formed to protect the lips and teeth from being cut or damaged by the braces themselves. These mouth guards also protect the orthodontic appliance from sustaining damage. “It is extremely important for everyone to know”, said Wilson, “retainers are not mouth guards”. They will not protect anyone from blunt force trauma to the face, teeth and mouth.
Perhaps an even greater concern than oral-facial trauma is brain injury. Recently, the effects of repeated concussions have raised serious concerns that these may lead to early dementia and premature death. Concussions are defined as a form of traumatic brain injury sustained by a sudden force or jolt to the head. As a result, the brain may become bruised, with nerve and blood vessels damage common (http://www.webmd.com/brain/concussion-traumatic-brain-injury-symptoms-causes-treatments). People who play contact sports need to be particularly careful. According to Dr. Brian Burrows of Color Country Pediatrics in Cedar City, the most frequent contact sports-related injuries include concussions, sprains,
fractures, knee injuries, and injuries to the nose, eyes, and mouth. Burrows explained that children and adolescents are more vulnerable to these injuries than are adults. This is because their nervous and skeletal systems are still developing. However, the “good news” that recovery is faster and more complete compared to what is typically seen in adults. As with the other health care professionals interviewed for this article, Dr. Burrows advocates for prevention. Wearing proper fitting protective gear such as mouth guards and helmets is critical. “When most people think of mouth guards, they think of their teeth. What they don’t always realize is that this simple and relatively inexpensive apparatus can dramatically reduce the chance of sustaining a concussion and/or its severity.”
All of us who organize, coach, and support hockey in Southern Utah love to see children and adults out on the ice enjoying the sport. Together, we want to keep everyone safe and healthy. If you have any questions regarding safety equipment for ice sports, please feel free to ask one of the knowledgeable hockey coaches at the Glacier Ice Rink. Employees of ice hockey equipment retailers, such as Total Hockey and Ice Warehouse, are also great sources of information. Just remember, what you don’t know can hurt you.