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With spring sports in full swing, don't forget a mouth guard

Posted March 7

Mouth guards came about because of the many mouth injuries in contact sports. Since their development, the number of injuries has dramatically decreased.

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.

Springtime sports are here and, with kids going to baseball practice, soccer games, track and field events, golf tournaments and so on, they will have many chances to learn about teamwork and athletic skills.

They will also have many chances to hurt themselves.

"Outfitting children with safety equipment is important, and one occasionally forgotten but essential piece of safety equipment is a mouth guard," said Dr. Scott Cashion, a pediatric dentist in Greensboro, N.C.

Mouth guards came about because of the many mouth injuries in contact sports. Since their development, the number of injuries has dramatically decreased, according to a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Use these four tips to help you find the best mouth guard for your child:

Decide How Many

Mouth guards are generally for upper teeth, but if you have a child with braces, you may want to get a lower teeth mouth guard, as well.

"Your top teeth take the brunt of trauma because they stick out more," Thomas Long, a professional hockey team dentist, said in an article for the American Dental Association. "Your bottom teeth are a little more protected because they are further back."

Choose the Right Type

There are three basic types of mouth guards: stock, boil and bite and customized.

Stock mouth guards are pre-formed. While they tend to cost less than the other types, they also are ill-fitting, restrict breathing and make it difficult to talk.

Because of the discomfort, athletes often change the guards to fit better, which means they offer less protection.

A boil-and-bite mouth guard is exactly what it sounds like. You boil it, and then have your young athlete bite it to form to the mouth shape.

Unfortunately, "these mouth guards do not provide the proper thickness, comfort or critical protection of the posterior teeth," according to Dentistry Today.

The final type of mouth guard is a customized one, which "provides the most comfort and protection," according to WebMD. Your dentist can create a mouth guard that fits your child's mouth exactly, meaning it will be secure and comfortable.

"A well-designed custom appliance is generally considered to be the best type of guard and provides the highest level of protection," according to animated-teeth.com. "Its design can be individualized, not just for the athlete but also for the type of sport they play. The fit and comfort of this type of guard is usually excellent (better than any other type of protector) and as a result only creates minimal inconvenience when worn."

Consider Materials

In the AJSM study, researchers tested mouth guards made from poly (vinyl acetate-ethylene) copolymer clear thermoplastic, polyurethane and laminated thermoplastic. They fitted the mouth guards to 40 UCLA football players, and then took 11 measurements to measure how they changed with wear.

The study concluded the laminated thermoplastic changed the least, followed by the clear thermoplastic. The polyurethane changed the most.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration oversees dental devices to ensure materials used are safe. Talk to your dentist, especially if you are concerned about a particular material, so you can make a choice for your child that you are comfortable with.

Talk to Your Dentist

"Ultimately, choosing a mouth guard comes down to providing the highest level of protection," Cashion said. "Consulting an expert on teeth, like your dentist, will let you ask any questions you have, so you get accurate and personalized information."

Your dentist will answer your questions and help you choose the safest and most comfortable mouth guard for your athlete. Since the custom mouth guards are considered the most comfortable and protecting, you can get your dentist to make you one, as well.

Make an appointment to discuss your options, so your child will be geared up and ready to go.

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Dental Society.

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