Football players wear helmets in order to protect themselves from skull fractures and other injuries, and they wear shoulder pads and neck rolls to protect their back, chest, collarbones, and shoulders. Hockey players wear similar equipment, and baseball players wear helmets to shield their heads and gloves to shield their hands. So, why do so many athletes forgo their mouthguards? After all, the American Dental Association finds that as many as 40 percent of all dental injuries are sports-related, and numerous studies have shown that mouthguards can significantly reduce the risk of a wide range of injuries.
As an Athlete, How Does a Mouthguard Benefit You?
Whether you play sports in a casual league or are working to make the pros, your participation puts you at risk of dental injuries that can be painful and put a serious dent in your wallet. The good news is that avoiding such damage is rather simple. Here are six ways that your mouthguard will protect you.
1. Protection Against Dental Fractures
A dental fracture is a crack in a tooth. The enamel is damaged and exposes the dentin or even the pulp. Such injuries require restoration performed by a dentist, such as a crown or filling. Dental fractures can occur whenever you are hit in the mouth, and in most sports, there are many opportunities for that to happen. A mouthguard protects against these cracks by providing a cushion over the teeth, and that cushion significantly reduces the risk that an impact will cause that level of damage.
2. Protection Against Tooth Displacement
There are three types of tooth displacement. Intrusion is when a tooth is displaced into the supporting bone. Extrusion is when a tooth is displaced out of the socket, and lateral luxation is when a tooth is displaced in a direction other than on its axis. During sports, hits to the mouth can be forceful enough to displace a tooth or multiple teeth in all three of these ways. Again, a mouthguard serves as a cushion that absorbs the force and redistributes it over a wider area, which makes displacement far less likely.
3. Protection Against Tooth Loss
If the impact is severe enough, it can knock the tooth out entirely. Hard hits in ice hockey are the reason so many hockey players are missing teeth. Many of those injuries, however, could have been avoided. Displacement of the force by the mouthguard greatly reduces the risk of having a tooth knocked out.
4. Protection Against Soft-Tissue Injuries
Many of the routine impacts that occur in sports are not hard enough to damage the teeth but may cause the athlete to bite down on his or her lip, cheek, or even tongue. Since a mouthguard covers the upper and lower crowns, these types of injuries simply cannot happen.
5. Protection Against Jaw Injuries
Serious blows to the head that can occur while playing sports can cause your upper and lower teeth to clash with great force. The jaw is not flexible, and so, if that force is not displaced, a fracture can occur. A mouthguard causes such force to be redistributed evenly on all the teeth, and that cushioning significantly reduces the likeliness that the impact will be strong enough and direct enough to fracture your jaw. In fact, the Penn State Hershey Health Information Library website recommends mouthguards as the most effective way to prevent jaw injuries while participating in sports.
6. Protection Against Concussions With a Custom Fit
Mouthguards reduce the risk of head trauma as well as oral injuries. With a greater focus on brain injuries in sports, recent research has found that mouthguards may reduce the risk of concussion. In one 2005 clinical study, researchers applied direct blows to lower jaws in order to mimic the hits common in football. The study revealed that a mouthguard not only reduced distortion of the lower jaw but the acceleration of the head, which medicine is now recognizing as the leading cause of concussive injuries.
More studies are occurring, and more research is needed before conclusions are drawn, but there is enough evidence that using a mouthguard is the smart play. It is important to note that there is a difference between a basic mouthguard and a custom-fit mouth protector. A 2014 study published in General Dentistry found that football players wearing stock mouthguards were more than twice as likely to incur mild concussions than those players wearing custom-fit mouthguards. The study spanned more than 400 high school football players across six schools. Of the half that used stock guards, 8.3 percent experienced concussions, whereas only 3.6 percent of the other group sustained them.
Ounce of Prevention
The Benjamin Franklin axiom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to the use of mouthguards in sports. Once you have lost your permanent teeth, it is game over. Why would any athlete not wear a mouthguard? Peer pressure may be an issue with younger players, and inconvenience is often cited as a reason, but the hassle is rather minimal. However, if you choose not to wear a mouthguard, and an injury occurs, the consequences will be much more than inconvenient. They will involve pain, discomfort, significant expenses, and perhaps a permanent change to your appearance.
Protect Your Teeth and Your Children’s Teeth
A mouthguard is a relatively small investment that can provide huge dividends when it comes to your oral health and the health of your children’s teeth and gums. No mouth protector is better than one that has been designed by your dentist specifically for you. If you are considering a mouthguard, Scottsdale Dental Excellence would love to help. Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, can answer all of your questions and help you choose the best product for your particular purposes. Call us today at 480 585 1853.