Louisville orthodontist Dr. Paul Tran urges parents to take their student athlete to the dentist to be fit for the most vital piece of sporting equipment, the mouth guard.
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - Back to school is almost here and so is the potential for injury as popular school sports resume.
With sports-related concussions on the rise, a parent's first thought may be to buy the most technologically advanced helmet. While a titanium face cage can go a long way, most forget about or improperly use the most vital piece of equipment, the mouth guard, said Louisville orthodontist Dr. Paul Tran.
"The importance of an athlete wearing a mouth guard when playing sports cannot be overstated, especially for those who wear braces or have extensive work," said Dr. Tran, a Louisville braces professional.
A mouth guard is a plastic appliance (soft or hard) that fits over the teeth. When a properly fitting guard is worn, the protection goes beyond just protecting the teeth. Injuries to the lips, cheeks, jaws, teeth and tongue are prevented as well.
The overall risk of injury was found to be 1.6-1.9 times greater than when a mouth guard was not worn, relative to when they were worn during athletic activity, according to a study conducted by the American Dental Association.
The available types of mouth guards are:
• Stock-widely available at most sporting stores, but come in limited ready-to-use sizes, which means they are the least expensive and protective.
• Boil and bite - guard must be boiled in water and formed to the teeth by using finger, tongue and biting pressure. They may not cover all the back teeth and athletes often cut them down for a better fit, rendering the guard useless.
• Custom-made - made by an orthodontic or dental professional using an impression of your teeth to ensure proper fit. The design of the mouth guard is dependant on the patient's specific needs/purpose.
Mouth guards can also help protect athletes from concussions. On the moment of impact, an athlete clenches their jaw muscles around the guard, which in turn stabilizes the skull and neck. Guards also provide a resilient, protective surface to distribute and dissipate forces on impact, thereby minimizing the severity of traumatic injury to the hard and soft tissues.
"Athletes with braces are at an even greater risk of injury to their oral appliance, as there is the possibility of the appliances breaking through the facial skin during impact," said Dr. Tran who is a Louisville family orthodontist. "The benefits of wearing a mouth guard greatly outweigh the cons, so parents should view it as a no-brainer piece of equipment."