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.