Helmet? Check. Goggles? Check. You’re ready to hit the ski slopes – almost.
What about your mouth guard?
Most people think orofacial protectors, better known as mouth guards, are only for contact sports athletes. However, the American Dental Association (ADA) has long encouraged the use of athletic mouth guards for people engaged in all kinds of recreational sports and activities, including non-contact activities like skiing.
One of the reasons mouth guards are not more widely used is the many misconceptions surrounding them. Do mouth guards cause gum disease or bad breath? Who really needs to use a mouth guard?
This is an area where dental hygienists and other dental professionals can step in to help. Below, we’ll discuss some of the questions (and misconceptions) you may hear about the subject of athletic mouth guards.
Athletic mouth guards are designed to provide cushioning in the event the wearer receives a blow to the face. Though the device only covers the upper teeth, it also helps prevent injuries to the lips, tongue and cheek, since all can be hurt by broken teeth. Mouth guards can also help to prevent injuries to the jaw by reducing the force upon impact.
Some sports, like hockey and boxing, carry an inherent risk of these types of injuries. However, dental injuries are also prevalent in non-contact activities and exercises like ice skating and gymnastics. Falls are one of the most common causes of tooth injury. And it isn’t only children who are at risk – numerous surveys show that the risk of dental injuries is present for sports participants of all ages, genders and skill levels.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, sports-related dental injuries account for more than 600,000 emergency room visits each year. Both the ADA’s Council of Scientific Affairs and its Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention recognize the value of wearing an athletic mouth guard when participating in sports and recreational activities where injuries to the face, head or mouth can occur.
Some people point to mouth guards as a source of bad breath, gum disease, cavities, and other oral health issues. Although athletic mouth guards are not the cause of these problems, mouth guards can harbour bacteria that contribute (along with poor oral self-care) to oral disease.
It is important to care for an athletic mouth guard properly. The device should be rinsed with warm water immediately after use, followed by a light brushing with a toothbrush (toothpaste is not necessary.) Since oral bacteria thrives in moisture, the mouth guard must be allowed to dry completely before storage. The mouth guard and its storage case should also be cleaned with denture cleaner periodically.
There are three main types of athletic mouth guards available:
The most effective type of mouth guard is one custom-made by a dental professional and tailored to fit the unique shape of the user’s mouth. Not only does this type of mouth guard provide the best protection, it is also the most comfortable, meaning the user is more likely to wear it more often. Custom-made mouthguards can also last longer and be less prone to damage by the wearer.
For athletes who cannot afford or access a custom-made mouth guard, a store-bought device is still more effective than forgoing a mouth guard altogether. The ADA recommends that athletes look for over-the-counter mouth guards bearing the ADA Seal of Approval, which have met the organization’s standards for safety and efficacy.
One of the classic arguments in favour of wearing a mouth guard is the notion that it helps to protect the wearer from a mild traumatic brain injury. In truth, researchers have yet to confirm this claim. However, one study found that high school football players who wore a store-bought mouthguard were more than twice as likely to suffer a concussion than players who wore custom-fitted mouthguards.
Regardless, there is no question that an athletic mouth guard can protect the wearer from injuries to the teeth, jaw, lips, tongue and gums.
Sports-related injuries constitute 12-39% of all dental injuries. Athletic mouth guards may not be mandatory for most recreational activities, but they can make the difference between a simple mishap and a costly dental injury.
The next time you see a patient, consider asking whether they plan to put on their ski boots and ice skates this winter. If the answer is yes, remind them of the benefits of wearing a mouth guard.
Most of us chew gum, and we chew it for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s a piece before a first date, or after a particularly strong cup of coffee, many of us use the chewy stuff to keep our mouths smelling clean and fresh as we go about our day.
We see gum promoted in advertisements as something you can use not only to keep your breath smelling fresh; but to whiten and clean your teeth, improving your oral health.
Exaggerated marketing, or bona-fide fact? The answer lies in the ingredients of the gum you choose to chew.
It comes as no surprise that if you’re chewing gum with a lot of sugar in it, it’s going to be bad for your teeth. Sugar promotes the growth of plaque bacteria, which in turn promotes the development of cavities, the decay of enamel, and other issues.
It’s because of this that many companies, such as Wrigley’s, have begun to use both aspartame and a substance known as Xylitol as a substitute for sugar in their products.
A naturally occurring compound that has been shown to prevent tooth decay, the National Centre for Biotechnology Information writes that Xylitol, “reduces the levels of mutans streptococci … in plaque and saliva by disrupting their energy production processes, leading to futile energy cycle and cell death … Consumption of xylitol chewing gum for >3 weeks leads to both long-term and short-term reduction in salivary and plaque S. mutans levels.”
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Less bacteria on your teeth means less enamel-eating acid created, which means a healthier mouth. Brands like Confadent advertise and discuss their use of Xylitol as a safe alternative to aspartame, and a plaque reducer.
According to Delta Dental of California, “With xylitol use over a period of time, the types of bacteria in the mouth change and fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on tooth surfaces.”
This sounds like a big-time benefit for your pearly whites, but how do the results compare to projection? Some research shows that the evidence regarding the long term benefits of Xylitol as a dental hygiene product is still unclear.
According to a review published by the American Dental Association in 2015, while there is some evidence that Xylitol may reduce tooth decay over a period of years, the evidence is low quality.
Research published by the Cochrane Library website suggests that there just isn’t enough high quality evidence to confirm that Xylitol prevents tooth decay.
Philip Riley, M.P.H., of the School of Dentistry at the University of Manchester in the UK, is quoted as writing, “More well-conducted, randomized placebo-controlled trials that are large enough (in terms of number of randomized participants) to show a difference, if one exists, are needed.”
The Cochrane Library review stresses in its conclusions, “We found some low quality evidence to suggest that fluoride toothpaste containing xylitol may be more effective than fluoride-only toothpaste … The effect estimate should be interpreted with caution due to high risk of bias and the fact that it results from two studies that were carried out by the same authors in the same population.”
In the end, the conclusions are yours to draw based on the evidence given, but it’s safe to say that chewing gum with Xylitol is better for your teeth than its sugary counterparts. While there needs to be some more research done to better reinforce this conclusion, Xylitol has indeed been shown to reduce cavity causing bacteria in the mouth.
Still, if you want to keep your teeth healthy, at the end of the day no gum is a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. For more information on Xylitol, its benefits and drawbacks, you can check out this article from Access Dental, or this one from Delta Dental.