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Sports Injury

Sports Safety: Avoiding Tooth and Mouth Injuries

A few years ago, a dental journal called ADA News published an article that described what seemed like an unusual case: A child had suffered serious dental injuries after snagging his teeth on a basketball net while doing a slam-dunk.
A freak accident? Not quite. After the article appeared, nearly 40 dentists wrote in with their own stories about would-be Michael Jordans who sacrificed their front teeth in pursuit of the perfect dunk.

In older children and adults, sports injuries are common. Dentists estimate that between 13% and 39% of dental injuries occur while playing sports.
The front teeth suffer the most. About 80% of all dental injuries affect one or more of the front teeth. Soft tissue damage — from biting the tongue or cheek, for example — also is common.

Basic Protection

Dental injuries aren't always permanent. Even if a tooth has been knocked out completely, it often can be saved if you get to a dentist quickly enough. In addition, minor chips and cracks can be repaired with "invisible" materials that are nearly as strong as the original tooth.
However, even "minor" mishaps can cause significant, and expensive, damage. If you enjoy sports or other high-risk activities, it's worth investing in some protection. The use of mouth guards among football players, for example, is believed to prevent about 200,000 oral injuries a year.

There are two types of protection to choose from:
Helmets — If you enjoy any type of activity that involves speed or impact — such as playing football, skating or riding a bike or a scooter — a helmet is a must. Forget hand-me-downs; if the helmet doesn't fit correctly or is not appropriate for a particular sports, it may be too uncomfortable to wear.
Mouth guards — As many male and female student and adult athletes have discovered, wearing a mouth guard is one of the best ways to prevent a sudden trip to the dentist.
Some ready-to-wear, U-shaped mouth guards, made from rubber or vinyl materials, are available to purchase over-the-counter in many sporting goods stores. However, they generally do not fit well and, as a result, do not evenly distribute the force of an impact. Dr. Sadowsky recommends that you avoid using these type of mouth guards and suggests going to a dentist to have a custom-fitted mouth guard made to fit comfortably in your mouth and offer better protection.

If having a mouth guard custom-fit by a dentist isn't an option, then an alternative could be a "boil-and-bite" mouth guard. These mouth guards are made from a type of plastic that softens in boiling water. You place the mouth guard in boiling water, and once the plastic is soft, you put it into your mouth, bite down on it, and mold the softened plastic around your teeth using your fingers, lips and tongue. Be careful not to scald yourself when removing the mouth guard from the boiling water, and make sure that it isn't too hot to put into your mouth. If the mouth guard doesn't fit comfortably the first time, you can reheat it and do it again. These "boil-and-bite" mouth guards are available in many sporting goods stores.

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