It surprises some people that the most injured area of the body during sports is the mouth, and not just in team contact sports. Hockey and football players, for example, have it drilled into them from a young age that wearing a mouthguard is essential to prevent serious injuries of the mouth, but it is very difficult to get a basketball player or skateboarder, say, to wear one. But some of the injuries we see suggest that everyone who engages in some form of contact sport, or risk taking activity, should consider wearing a mouthguard.
Dental injuries are painful, costly and can be permanent. While modern dental techniques ensure that treatment can usually recreate your smile, such that you’d never know an accident had happened, why put yourself in that position when wearing a mouthguard is such a simple yet very effective preventative measure to avoid these injuries in the first place?
Choosing a mouthguard will depend on the type of sport played, the potential for injury and the age of the wearer. For example, an adult who plays ice hockey will have a stronger, thicker mouthguard than a young child who skateboards (if you can get him/her to wear one of course).
Stock or ready-made mouthguards are available from most sports stores. These are the least expensive but also provide the least protection. Although they come in many different shapes and sizes, little can be done to adjust this type of mouthguard to fit the mouth comfortably. If the mouthguard is ill-fitting or loose it can be knocked out too easily and will not provide the necessary protection.
Boil and Bite mouthguards are moulded to fit each individual mouth by placing the mouth piece in boiling water and then biting into the warm plastic. They can be re-fitted again if not correctly fitted the first time or if needing adjustment to accommodate for additional teeth on a growing child. This type of mouthguard, although a better option to the stock mouthguard, can feel bulky or cause difficulty in breathing and speaking.
Custom-made mouthguards are the most effective. These are more expensive than other types as they are individually fitted by a dentist. However a well fitted mouthguard is essential in providing maximum protection from traumatic force as it will remain securely in place during the sports activity. They are comfortable and do not interfere with breathing or speech. These mouthguards can be made in plain or multi-colours, and can be personalised with the owner's name, so they need never get lost in the locker room.
In case of injury to the mouth and teeth here’s what you do to manage the situation confidently. If the tooth has been completely knocked out of the gum (called avulsion):
1. Find the tooth and check for obvious damages to the root. If there’s not too much blood or trauma, the patient should lick the tooth clean or wash in plain milk. The tooth should only be placed in clean water as a last resort should the first 2 options are unavailable.
2. If the tooth is a primary (“baby”) tooth it should not be replanted in the mouth as such pressure could damage the secondary tooth still situated in the gum.
3. If the tooth is a secondary tooth attempt to replant it into the gum socket and hold it in place either using finger pressure or by biting on a handkerchief. See a dentist as soon as possible – if possible within one hour of the trauma.
4. If it is too difficult to replant the tooth or you just don’t know whether you should or not, place it in plain milk or salt water or even better, ask the patient to keep it under their tongue or inside their cheek. If none of these options are possible, a last resort is to place the tooth in plastic wrap, a wet towel or water.
If the tooth has been fractured off rather than completely knocked out, try and find the fractured piece. Sometimes this can be re-bonded. Place the piece in salt water if possible or tap water and see your dentist as soon as possible.
Protect your smile and the smile of your children, so you don’t have to replace what you already have.