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Gearing up for spring sports? Don't forget a mouthguard

Posted May 13, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

Children get millions of teeth knocked out each year while playing youth sports. Despite this fact, 84 percent of children do not wear mouthguards when they play. (PhotoCG/Big Stock Photo)

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

Children get millions of teeth knocked out each year while playing youth sports. Despite this fact, 84 percent of children do not wear mouthguards when they play.

These relatively inexpensive protective devices can do much to prevent damage to teeth, so dentists recommend mouth guards as an integral component of any team uniform.

"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.

Mouthguards protect more than just your child’s teeth from impact. They also protect the tongue, lips, jaw and face.

The American Dental Association recommends mouthguards be worn right along with helmets and protective eyewear during sports. While this is especially important for those playing contact sports, mouthguards can also be beneficial for sports like gymnastics and skating.

Types of mouthguards

Mouthguards typically cover the upper teeth, although if your child has braces, lower teeth mouthguards are also a smart idea to protect them from lacerations if hit.

"Your top teeth take the brunt of trauma because they stick out more," said Thomas Long, team dentist for the Carolina Hurricanes. "Your bottom teeth are a little more protected because they are further back."

There are three basic types of mouthguards: stock, boil and bite, and customized. Each type offers a different level of protection at varying price points.

Stock mouthguards are pre-formed and ready to wear, and they can be found for as low as two dollars at most sporting goods stores.

Boil and bite mouthguards can also be purchased over-the-counter. They are made of thermoplastic which makes the material malleable enough to be molded around individual bites after boiling in water.

Custom-fitted mouthguards are designed specifically for your child based on a mold of their mouth. They are made by your dentist or a specialist and are the most expensive of the three options but offer more security due to the tailored fit.

Store bought vs. custom-fitted

While stock mouthguards are less expensive than the other types, they cannot be adjusted, which limits their protective capabilities and makes breathing and speaking while wearing one difficult. Dentists do not recommend using stock mouthguards.

Boil-and-bite guards are better fitting than standard stock mouth guards, but they "do not provide the proper thickness, comfort or critical protection of the posterior teeth," according to Dentistry Today.

Most dentists recommend custom-fitted mouthguards, as they are more secure and comfortable and thus offer the greatest protection than the other types, albeit at a steeper price.

"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."

Additional protection

High-impact sports like football, hockey and soccer are often in the news for concerns related to concussions suffered by athletes. Properly-fitted mouthguards could be a protective factor in such events.

If the mouthguard is fitted enough to remain on the teeth during play, it can provide a cushion between the upper and lower teeth in the event of a hard hit, helping to lessen or prevent the jolt of energy from the impact from reaching the brain.

"Ensuring a properly fitted mouthguard is essential for keeping athletes safe during play," said Dr. Michael Farmer of Charlotte. "In contact sports like football or basketball, many dental injuries can be avoided if there’s proper protection and cushioning between the upper and lower teeth."

How to choose

"Ultimately, choosing a mouthguard 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.

Make an appointment to discuss your options, so your child will be geared up and ready to go for next season. If you don’t have a family dentist, you can find one near you using this Find-a-Dentist search tool.

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