It’s that time again: back to school and back to sports

Mouthguards can take a bite out of sports injuries, but it’s important to make the right choice

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist,

Today I am wearing both of my favorite hats, the dentist hat and the mom hat. As a dentist with more than 20 years of experience, I know how incredibly important it is to wear a well fitting mouthguard during activities that can pose a risk to the teeth.

As a mom I know that my kids are just like yours, They will play hard, get dirty, fall down and act like they are indestructible. My job is to keep them as reasonably safe as possible while they run head first into the defensive line. My four children at one time or another have played football, flag football, rugby, field hockey, ice hockey, basketball, baseball, softball, martial arts, lacrosse, wrestling and soccer.  I think of mouthguards like shoes. We all need the appropriate shoe for the sport and very few of us will send out kids out on the playing field with shoes that are too big, don’t fit or fall off their feet.

According to the national youth sports foundation for safety an athlete is 60 times more likely to sustain a dental injury when not wearing a mouthguard.  They also go on to state that dental injuries are the most costly type of injuries sustained during sporting events.

There are some fortune 500 companies out there that are sharing research that proper jaw position will improve an athlete’s performance.  This jaw position opens the airway to allow better oxygenation of the blood and improved performance posture.  This improved jaw posture can improve strength, speed, endurance and overall performance. With the growing amount of speculation in the literature that wearing a mouthguard will help prevent or lessen the severity of some concussion injuries a well fitted mouthguard is more important than ever.  So if a well made mouthguard can protect from injury and help us play better, why aren’t we wearing them more?

We all know that sports are responsible for a large number of dental injuries. I have personally seen teeth knocked out during a flag football game and during a tee-ball practice.  The worse dental injury I have treated in my twenty plus years of practice was a cheerleading injury. Seems a face plant from the top of a pyramid is like skydiving without a parachute. Almost anyway. Ouch.

Dental MouthGuard FAQ’s

In my office we offer the Pro-form brand of athletic mouthguards

Q:  Why can’t I just get one at the sporting goods store?

A:  While any mouthguard is better than none, very few stock guards actually fit. These loose guards  can fall out during contact and fail to protect at all.

Q:  What about the “boil and bite” guard?

A:  I hate to answer with a question but I have to ask, can you drink boiling water? The temperature to accurately fit the guard it just too hot to do it in the mouth.

Q:  How much does it cost to get a custom one?

A:  Every dental practice is different, but in my office we charge $77.00 to make one for our patients. There are more expensive ones available but I would rather make a new one periodically than expect someone to wear the same guard for years.

Q: What about braces?

A: All the more reason for a great mouthguard. Always ask your orthodontist for their suggestions.

Q: How are they made?

A: A dental impression is taken and a model of the athlete’s teeth is prepared. That model is used to vacuum form special laminated material over the teeth for a custom fit. The material is trimmed so that most protection is available for the least amount of plastic in the mouth.

Q: Can you talk with one?

A: Sure, I wouldn’t recommend singing opera while wearing one, but speaking (grunting in the huddle) is no problem.

Q:  How long does it take to get one

A:  Some dentists have the equipment to make these in their offices, in that case it takes about an hour. If your dentist sends it out to a laboratory for manufacture, it may cost more and take a few days.

While many youth athletic programs have sports guard requirements, most will only mandate the minimal protection. These do it yourself, one size fits all guards are designed to protect however, they offer the least amount of available protection against trauma. Usually if there is a significant impact, the mouthguard flies right out of the mouth.  Or, as one organization suggests could get lodged in the back of the throat. While I agree any mouthguard is better than no mouthguard. I prefer one that fits and does  it’s  job.

Why a custom mouthguard?

• Increased oxygen flow for maximum performance and endurance
• Improved speech for clear communication on the field
• Secure fit to keep in place during impact
• Protection against tooth damage and cushions impact injury
• Custom fit for any size mouth

As a mom on the sidelines, I have seen some poorly fitting guards that actually distract the player on the field.  I cringe when I see kids with their mouthguards falling out of their mouths when they are playing hard. None of us would send our kids out on the playing field with shoes that don’t fit.  Why do we do it with their protective equipment?

Is it worth it?

My patients often ask about the cost, ask if it really matters.   YES.  In the event of a dental injury, the costs can exceed the mouthguard expense by many hundreds or thousands of dollars.  Even with the best dental benefits, most deductibles and copays alone far exceed the cost of the guard.

Nothing beats prevention and protection.

My analogy of the day is… if you are falling from an airplane, landing on a pillow may be nice, but a parachute is preferred.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends fitted mouthguards for the following sports, 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, waterpolo, weight lifting and wrestling.

For more information about mouthguards, click here.

Dr. Stephanie McGann is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.


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One Comment

  1. Helen Sax says:

    Great article. My son played sports his entire school career and I never knew these custom mouthguards were available.

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