Protecting Young Athletes with Properly Fit Mouth Guards

As registration for spring sports begins across the country, many parents find themselves worried about how to protect their children from the risk of sports-related dental injuries and concussions. Mouth guards play a key role in preventing and reducing the impact of injuries for children and adults in sports and can give parents peace of mind when chosen carefully and worn correctly.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, children between the ages of seven and 11 and boys between the ages of 15 and 18 are the most susceptible groups to sports-related dental injuries. It’s surprising that although rugby and football are often assumed to be the most dangerous sports, studies have actually found that baseball and basketball have the highest rate of dental traumas.

All ages and sports are at risk for dental and facial trauma when playing sports. The American Dental Association estimates that 200,000 injuries a year in high school and college football are prevented with the use of mouth guards. There are over 30 activities that the ADA recommends using mouth guards for when participating in. These include:

  • Basketball
  • Bicycling
  • Boxing
  • Equestrian Events
  • Extreme Sports
  • Field Events
  • Field Hockey
  • Football
  • Gymnastics
  • Handball
  • Ice Hockey
  • Inline Skating
  • Lacrosse
  • Martial Arts
  • Racquetball
  • Rugby
  • Shot-putting
  • Skateboarding
  • Skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Squash
  • Surfing
  • Volleyball
  • Water polo
  • Weightlifting
  • Wrestling

It may seem as easy as running to your local sporting goods store and grabbing one of the many boil and bite type mouth guards they offer. But many dentists are recommending against this, says oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS.

“To achieve the maximum amount of protection, a custom-made mouth guard is really the best option,” Pollock said. “A mouth guard should fit properly and shouldn’t be removable with the tongue or loose enough to float around in the player’s mouth. It should also be tear-resistant and shouldn’t restrict breathing or communication. It’s hard to get a proper fit with a one size fits all mouth guard or a boil and bite variety.”

Another thing many parents, players and coaches often understandably overlook is the maintenance and care of a mouth guard. The ADA recommends cleaning mouth guards with water, mouthwash or toothpaste and a toothbrush before and after each use. Storage is also important. Never store your mouth guard in an air tight container like a zipped up bag or a container with no holes. Air circulation is critical as is avoiding extreme heat which can damage it. Be sure to regularly check for tears, holes and other signs of weakness as this can lead to a less effective and sometimes dangerous situation. 

It’s typically a good idea to replace mouth guards every season, even if there are no outward signs of damage. Children and teens are rapidly growing and what fits one season may not work the next. The best way to handle the maintenance and replacement of your mouth guard is to bring it to each six-month cleaning and exam with your dentist. He or she can then evaluate the fit and condition of it, and you can avoid making a separate trip just for that purpose.