Let's talk today about children playing sports (and doing other activities), and how you can protect their teeth with an athletic mouth guard.
This is a pretty important topic, because, let's face it, kids are pretty active. They like to play sports, run around, skate, jump, tumble, roll, and an assortment of other activities that make my older bones shudder. And in a lot of these activities, their teeth are at significant risk to serious injury and trauma.
One thing I want to state in the beginning is I am not just talking about contact sports. It's a given that football, boxing (et al) have significant "teeth risks". But so does *any* sport where running, jumping, or any "fast" movement is prevalent. I once worked on a gymnast's teeth -- he fell off the rings, and landed pretty much on his mouth... ouch. I'm not saying your kids need to wear a mouth guard every time they leave the house, but it's not a bad idea to make sure they have one for any organized physical activity.
Ok, I just mentioned "mouth guard". Yes, that's the way you protect your children's teeth in sports and other activities. Mouth guards are essentially plastic dental appliances that are worn over the teeth, and provide protection for not just teeth, but lips, cheeks, and gums as well. There are essentially three different types of mouth guards, which I'll go over in a moment, but first I want to post this small blurb from the American Dental Association (ADA):
Surveillance studies of mouthguard users and nonusers have consistently shown that mouthguards offer significant protection against sports-related injuries to the teeth and soft tissues. Mouthguards provide a resilient, protective surface to distribute and dissipate forces on impact, thereby minimizing the severity of traumatic injury to the hard or soft tissues.
The ADA is very clear on their endorsement of mouth guards, and as a cosmetic dentist I agree with them -- they definitely do work. They protect teeth from trauma, chipping, etc. They absorb impact, keep lacerations from collisions at bay, and can go a long way in preventing a lifetime of problems (I've seen more than one "high school football mouth injury" still affect someone in their 30's, and cost thousands of dollars.) So yes, a mouth guard is a good investment if your children play sports or do physical activities.
Let's take a look at the three common mouth guard types, and try and determine which mouth guards are the best:
"Stock" mouth guards -- These are simple plastic mouth guards that are available in many retail outlets. They typically sell for $5-$15 or so, and are available in several "sizes" (small, medium, large, etc). Despite the sizing, they usually don't fit all that well, because everyone's mouth is a little different (small / medium / large may be ok with t-shirts, but not mouth guards.) Personally, I really don't recommend these. Still, despite not offering all that much protection, they are better than nothing.
"Boil and Bite" mouth guards -- These are the most popular mouth guards, because they are readily available in sporting goods stores / departments, are reasonable in price, and can be customized for a better fit. The idea is you heat the mouth guard, then bite down on it to shape it to your mouth (hence the name "boil and bite"). You can typically buy these for anywhere from $20-$50 or so, making them very affordable. While I still think a custom mouth guard (explained next) is better, I will say that "boil and bite" is definitely the next best option.
Custom Fitted Mouth Guards -- You can bet every professional athlete who uses a mouth guard wears a custom fitted one. This is where you go to a dentist, and they take an impression of your mouth and send it out to have a custom mouth guard made. Obviously, this is going to be the most comfortable type to wear, and will offer you the best protection. However, cost can be an issue, with a custom mouth guard running several hundred dollars (and even higher in some cases.)
Now, since we got into custom mouth guards, I want to touch on a "new" development in such -- "performance" mouth guards (it's really not "new", but it's starting to be heavily marketed.) Companies like Under Armour have developed mouth guards that they claim increases athletic performance. They are a custom mouth guard, and the general thought is by increasing airflow/breathing, and lessening teeth clenching, they actually increase athletic performance.
Interesting claims... but are they true? To be honest, I have not done extensive study myself, but I have personally seen enough lives improve with better airflow / breathing (etc) that I am inclined to think they may be onto something here in regards to high performance athletics. Better breathing can lead to higher endurance, and even better decision making / reaction time, as the brain gets more oxygen. It's probably not as far-fetched as it sounds (Side note: I do NOT work for Under Armour -- I just find this interesting. I have heard of performance-enhancing mouth guards for awhile, but Under Armour is taking it mainstream.)
I did look a bit online, and will provide you with a few links so you can read for yourself. Here's what Under Armour says on their website (this is a company website, so you know it will be glowing.) Here's more glowing stuff by Bitetech (they make these for Under Armour, as well as others). But here's a piece by a dentist who is a little skeptical (I had to search hard to find any skeptics).
Personally, like I mentioned above, I think they may be onto something here. Really, we have to listen to the athletes themselves. If they say it works, well, then it works, even if it's just all in their heads (hey, I play better golf with my favorite clubs.) But I DO know that better breathing = a better you. Performance mouth guards, it would seem, simply take that to the next level.
But regardless of mouth guard type, my recommendation remains - use some type of mouth guard for your kid's teeth.
Until next time, keep smiling (with a mouth guard!)
Follow Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dr_connelly