Each year as summer activities gear up in southeastern Michigan, I inevitably get more questions from parents about mouthguards for their children. Sometimes the questions are in response to sports league rules or summer camp packing lists. Unfortunately, other queries come after an emergency room visit.
Mouthguards for Children
Thousands of kids get their teeth knocked out or damage their jaws, lips and tongues each year while involved in recreational sports. It happens at school, in parks and in the driveway. All it takes is a wild pitch, a stray elbow, or hitting a rut in the pavement while skateboarding. The pavement always wins.
The majority of dental recreational injuries could be prevented by wearing protective gear. Soccer shin guards and football helmets are standard athletic equipment. A customized mouthguard is just as important! Mouthguards are made of soft plastic and fit over the teeth. They are designed to absorb and transfer shock away from the teeth and protect soft tissues in the mouth. And although I am mostly addressing parents here, let me be clear that I advocate mouthguards for everyone, young or old alike. It is important to note that a large percentage of concussions are caused not by blows to the skull, but by impact to the jaws. Mouthguards play a key role in preventing concussions and potential brain injury, as well as protect your one and only smile.
Football, kickboxing, basketball, field hockey, soccer and lacrosse are among the obvious contact sports in which well-fitting mouthguards are necessary. Skateboarding, racquetball, water polo, mountain biking, waterskiing and equestrian pursuits are other activities in which a fall or blow to the mouth or head could be disastrous. Cheerleading and gymnastics can be just as risky. Even jetskiing can be hazardous to your teeth. Check out this recent blog.
According to the American Dental Association, “An athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer harm to the teeth when not wearing a mouthguard. Mouthguards help buffer an impact or blow that otherwise could cause broken teeth, jaw injuries or cuts to the lip, tongue or face. Mouthguards also may reduce the rate and severity of concussions.”
Parents have the option of three types of mouthguards:
- A store bought, readymade, “one-size-fits-all” mouthguard
- A store bought “boil-and-bite” mouthguard
- A custom-made and fitted mouthguard fabricated to fit just you by your dentist
Of course, I recommend that you visit my office to get a custom-made mouthguard since it is individually fitted to your specific teeth and bite, and I will make sure it fits perfectly. A custom-fitted mouthguard is much more effective and comfortable and thus you are way more likely to wear it. Sports-related oral injuries can cost thousands of dollars to treat – not to mention your child’s discomfort – so I feel pretty strongly about this. But, one way or the other, please protect your child’s mouth. Mouth injuries are not pretty, are very painful, and can result in permanent consequences!
A sports mouthguard should:
- Be sturdy
- Be comfortable to wear
- Be customized for the sport
- Be easy to clean
- Not restrict breathing or speech
- Have a ventilated carrying case
- Have a helmet strap if needed
Once you have gotten your child a mouthguard, he or she should be taught how to care for it properly. To clean it, brush with toothpaste and rinse in cool water. Store it in a sturdy carrying case. Avoid contact with hot water or leaving it in the car or in direct sunlight, where it can be warped. Have your dentist periodically check it. Replace the device as it gets worn and when the child outgrows the fit. And never ever wrap it in a Kleenex or napkin! They are way too easily thrown out by accident!
Young athletes should wear their mouthguards consistently, whether in practice or during competition – just like the NBA players and Olympic athletes. If your child wears braces, a single or double mouthguard can protect not only the teeth, but also the wires and brackets. It will help shield the lips, gums and cheeks from getting cut by brackets during a knock to the head.
The American Dental Association estimates that mouthguards prevent 200,000 injuries among high school and college athletes annually. It’s a small investment, but it offers huge rewards and peace of mind. To make an appointment for yourself or your young athlete, call our office in Southfield at (248) 356-8790.
So until next time,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD