Being active is vital for physical health and it’s a whole lot of fun, too. But, whether it’s a kick about with friends or a competitive tournament, playing sports can be tough on your teeth.
We’re talking about chips and fractures to teeth, knocked out teeth, fractures to the jaw and injuries to the soft tissues of the mouth. All of these can be avoided or minimised with the use of a suitable mouthguard.
Even though dentists and sports teachers recommend wearing them, only around one in three Australian children do so[i]. The result? Thousands of people are treated for dental injuries due to a fall or damage resulting from equipment or accidental collisions. About a third of injuries to teeth are sports-related according to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), with children being most often affected – one in two kids experience some kind of dental injury[ii].
A good quality mouthguard is important because it absorbs and spreads the impact of a blow to the face. Some dentists suggest mouthguards are worn for non-contact sport, such as soccer and basketball as well as contact sports such as rugby. And, they’re not just important for game days – wearing a mouthguard during training is important since it helps children get used to wearing one while protecting their teeth.
So what exactly is a mouthguard? And what kind is the best kind for your kids and why?
Dentist made mouthguards
Custom made to accurately fit your child’s mouth, a dentist made mouthguard offers greater protection compared with off-the-shelf products; they are strongly recommended by the ADA. To make one, your dentist takes an impression of the teeth and a plaster model is made from this. For the perfect fit, the mouthguard should be around 4mm thick, with enough cushioning to protect against impact. The appliance needs to fit snugly but allow the wearer to talk.
A mouthguard is an important investment in your child’s health – if he or she has a dental injury, the pain and distress and the dental and/or hospital costs are likely to cost much more than the cost of a mouthguard.
These boil-and-bite mouthguards are first placed into hot water before placing in the mouth. When teeth are closed over the material, the resulting impression is the shape and size of the mouth.
These mouthguards are less effective and not as comfortable as a custom made mouthguard since they won’t conform perfectly to an individual’s bite. Although cheaper than custom made mouthguards, the ADA says that over-the-counter mouthguards don’t provide enough protection and they recommend a custom mouthguard fitted by a dental professional.
Caring for your mouthguard
Your dentist will advise you to keep the mouthguard in a plastic container with vents to allow some air to reach it (oral bacteria which can cause plaque hate air and are destroyed by it). Keep it clean by washing it in warm soapy water and rinsing carefully. Antibacterial mouthwash can be used to give it a thorough disinfection. Heat can alter the shape of the mouthguard so try and keep it in a sports bag and don’t allow it to become overheated (which can happen if you keep it in the car between games and training).
Bring the mouthguard along to your six monthly dental visit so your dentist can help to keep it in good condition – or replace it if it has been damaged. And, if your child is still growing, he or she may need a new piece from time to time to accommodate growth – about every 12-18 months or so. If the mouthguard starts to feel uncomfortable, your child’s dentist can advise you.
The bottom line …
If your child is playing sport regularly, it’s important that you get them fitted with a good-quality mouthguard – then make sure that they actually wear it. This will protect their teeth long-term, potentially saving them many painful (and possibly expensive) visits to the dentist.
[i] Australian Dental Association. About Mouthguards. http://www.mouthguardawareness.info/about-mouthguards.html
[ii] Australian Dental Association. There are easier ways to protect your child’s mouth from sports injury. http://www.ada.org.au/app_cmslib/media/lib/0803/m122630_v1_mouthguard%20poster%20a3.pdf