For many families, the back to school season also brings a return to their favorite sports. As kids and parents gear up for a return to the field, rink or court, one essential piece of equipment shouldn’t be overlooked: mouthguards.
According to the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), 13% to 39% of all dental injuries are sports related. Children between the ages of 7-10 years have the highest number of orofacial injuries. And the National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety reports dental injuries as the most common facial injury in youth sports.
“When we think about sports injuries, most worry about head, foot or knee injuries. Teeth are not at the forefront of someone’s mind. But they should be,” says Dr. Amber Bonnaig, DentaQuest’s Dental Director in Georgia. “Sports-related dental injuries are not only extremely common, but also they can have a serious impact on a child or teen’s health. These injuries are also largely avoidable if you use a mouthguard.”
Purchasing a mouthguard might seem like an added cost up front, but the potential consequences of not using a mouthguard are certain.
In the United States, sports families spend an average of $693 per child, per sport annually. Out of this cost, 44% goes toward paying for sports equipment to keep kids safe. But, when shopping for sports equipment like helmets, shin guards, cleats and pads, adding a mouthguard to the list can save kids from major dental injuries.
“Mouthguards are often overlooked when parents are getting ready to put their child in a sport, but wearing a mouthguard goes beyond just protecting a child’s teeth. Using a mouthguard actually can protect a child’s lips, cheeks and tongue in addition to their teeth and gums,” explains Bonnaig.
Data shows that mouthguards make a real difference. According to the American Dental Association, sports-related injuries knock out 2 million teeth per year. An athlete wearing a properly fitted mouthguard, however, is between 82% to 93% less likely to suffer dentofacial injuries than an athlete without a mouthguard, according to an ADA study in 2018.
For young people, the impacts of these injuries can go well beyond the mouth, impacting long-term oral health status as well as school and academic performance. In fact, research has shown that children with poor oral health are three times more likely to miss school as a result of dental pain, and absences caused by pain are associated with poorer school performance. Not to mention, dental injuries can become a long-term issue.
Bonnaig describes some of the life-long injuries she’s seen and they’re not to be taken lightly. Total tooth replacements, which can involve bone grafting, implants, crowns, and bridge work; facial fractures in the lower jaw; chipped teeth that need to be replaced every few years. Those are only some of the consequences of unprotected teeth.
“A mouthguard is just as important as the rest of the protective equipment. I’ve seen a child’s entire tooth come out during a sports game, and these injuries can result in life-long physical trauma, making prevention that much more important,” she says.
As with any piece of safety gear, getting the right fit is key.
“I would recommend talking to your dentist when considering a mouthguard,” says Bonnaig. “A dentist is the best person to help you decide whether a mouthguard is necessary and to ensure you’re getting the right type and fit for your sport and your mouth.”
Parents will do whatever it takes to keep their kids safe. Making sure they have a quality, well-fitting mouthguard while playing sports is the best way to keep their smiles happy and healthy.