Athletes in contact sports are at significant risk for traumatic injury to their teeth and mouth. It’s estimated 600,000 emergency room visits each year involve a sports-related dental injury.
Athletic mouthguards have become the premier safeguard against sports-related oral injuries. First worn by professional boxers in the 1920s, mouthguards are now required for use by various sports associations and leagues — from amateur youth to professional — for a number of sports. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for example, requires their use during play for hockey, lacrosse, field hockey and football. The American Dental Association recommends mouthguards for 29 sports or exercise activities.
But do mouthguards actually prevent injury? To answer that question in a scientific manner, the Journal of Sports Medicine published an evidence-based report in 2007 on mouthguard effectiveness for preventing or reducing the severity of oral-facial injuries and concussions. While the report objectively analyzed many of the problems and issues associated with mouthguards (like materials, design and durability), it concluded the risk of an oral-facial injury was nearly two times greater without the wearing of a mouthguard.
That being said, most dentists and other professionals in sports safety would advise not all mouthguards are alike. The stock, “off the shelf” mouthguard found in many retail stores with limited size offerings is the least expensive, but also least protective, of mouthguard types. Mouth-formed or “boil-and-bite” protectors, which are softened in boiling water and then bit down on by the player to form the fit, are better than the stock version — however, they often don’t cover all of the player’s back teeth.
The best option is a custom-designed guard made by a dentist for the individual patient. Although relatively expensive (costs range in the hundreds, compared with $25 or less for a stock guard), they provide the highest recognized level of mouth protection.
The bottom line: a mouthguard is a must-wear part of any uniform for any sport that involves contact or high velocity objects of play. If you or a family member is a contact sport athlete, it’s essential you protect your teeth and mouth with a custom-fit, high quality mouthguard.
If you would like more information on mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Athletic Mouthguards.”