Sports can play an important role in a child’s physical and social development. Not only can organized sports keep your child active, but team sports can help him or her build interpersonal skills.
But almost no sport is played without some risk of injury. You always make sure your child has on shin guards before taking to the soccer field and shoulder pads for football, but what about the areas that aren’t protected by standard sports gear?
Even sports where mouth guards are not required to play can cause oral injuries. And a 2011 survey ordered by Delta Dental Plans Association reported that 68% of children playing sports where they were at risk for a dental injury did not regularly wear mouth guards.
In this blog, we cover that basics of sports mouth guards so that you can make more informed decisions about your child’s gear.
How Does a Mouth Guard Protect Your Child?
On the sports field, most oral injuries affect the teeth directly. These injuries fit into the following categories:
- Avulsion. The term “avulsion” describes any injury where a tooth is completely dislodged from its socket. In the case of permanent teeth, a dentist may attempt to put the natural tooth back in place or may have to replace the tooth with a dental prosthetic, like an implant.
- Fracture. Any chip or crack in a tooth falls into this category. These injuries can cause high levels of pain and may increase the patient’s risk of oral decay. Your child’s dentist may need to use a filling, crown, or veneer to repair the damage.
- Luxation. The term “luxation” applies to any injury that moves a tooth without dislodging it completely. For example, the tooth may become pushed forward or pulled back. A dentist may be able to move the tooth back into place, but luxation increases the chance that patient will need orthodontic work in the future.
Mouth guards significantly decrease the risk of all three types of common sports-related dental injury. When an athlete has a mouth guard in, the guard absorbs a portion of the force of any impact so that the teeth and soft tissues of the mouth suffer less damage.
Mouth guard use also reduces the risk of related injuries, such as bitten tongues and cheeks, teeth cutting through the lips, and jawbone injuries.
Where Should Your Child’s Mouth Guard Come From?
You can find a child’s mouth guard in any sporting goods store. However, not all mouth guards are created equal.
Many of the mouth guards from sporting goods retailers are stock models. These models come pre-formed in a specific shape and cannot be modified to better fit your child’s mouth if they don’t line up immediately.
Some sporting goods stores also offer mouth guards that can be heated up, either by boiling or in the microwave, and then bitten down on to take an impression of the wearer’s teeth. These guards typically fit better than pre-formed models but take up more space in the mouth, which can be uncomfortable. And you may need new impressions regularly.
The primary issue with these two mouth guard options is that the best mouth guard for any athlete is one that he or she will wear for as long as it’s needed. Stock mouth guards are notoriously uncomfortable and may cause mouth abrasions due to their solid plastic edges.
Heat and bite mouth guards are a better option than stock models, but they are often too thick for younger children and children with smaller mouths to keep in place.
The third option is a custom mouth guard created by your child’s dentist. These mouth guards are fabricated from a mold of your child’s teeth. Custom mouth guards consist of higher quality materials that many athletes find more comfortable than other options.
While custom mouth guards do cost more than other models, parents should weigh the cost of the mouth guard against the potential cost of dental injuries, both financially for them and financially for their child. Additionally, most custom mouth guards cost less than the other sporting equipment your child is already expected to wear to each meet, match, or game.
When Should Your Child Wear His or Her Mouth Guard?
Athletes should use mouth guards whenever there is a risk of oral injury. This rule includes official games, as well as practice periods and casual games.
Mouth guards are mandatory in football, lacrosse, and ice hockey. However, dental experts recommend that mouth guards be worn for:
- Baseball and softball
- Martial arts
Children should also wear mouth guards during personal recreational activities with a high risk of dental injury, such as rollerblading and skateboarding.
If you aren’t sure whether or not your child needs a mouth guard for a sports activity, consult with your child’s pediatric dentist. The dentist can assess your child’s risk for dental injuries and emergencies and make recommendations based on the sports your child plays.
At Valley Oak Dental Group, we offer fitted mouth guards that are individually designed to fit each child athlete’s teeth perfectly.