Whether you’re the parent of a sports-playing child or a regular participant in competitive sports yourself, there’s no doubt that having an active lifestyle is a great thing. When it comes to playing sport, most of us understand the importance of safety and injury protection, which is why we wear helmets when cycling, shin guards when playing soccer, and kneepads when skating. However, many of us overlook the importance of protecting our mouths when playing sport, which is quite concerning, particularly when statistics show that sports players are up to 60 times more likely to suffer harm to their teeth if they’re not wearing a sports mouth guard.
What is an Effective Sports Mouth Guard?
An effective mouth guard is essentially a ‘crash helmet’ for your teeth and jaws that prevents the jaws from fully coming together, which can reduce the risk of mouth and jaw joint injuries and concussion.
Sports like rugby league, rugby union, AFL and hockey are ‘no brainers’ as intentional collision is essentially part of the game. However, it’s the sports where an accidental collision occurs (like cricket, netball, soccer and touch football) that are often responsible for dental trauma.
Every year thousands of people are treated for dental injuries caused by not wearing mouth protection, which is why the Australian Dental Association recommends that anyone who participates in a sport that carries a risk of any contact to the face should wear a mouthguard, and this includes activities like martial arts, horse riding, skateboarding, trampolining and water polo as well! But why is it so important?
Here are our top 5 reasons why you should wear a sports mouth guard, and some of the ways you can speed up the healing process in the unfortunate event that injuries do occur.
Reason 1 – Mouth Guards Can Protect Against Tooth Displacement
Wearing a sports mouth guard can help cushion teeth, as it can help to distribute the force of a heavy knock around your entire mouth so that individual teeth aren’t necessarily receiving all of the impact.
Receiving a hit to the head or face can result in an extruded or partially dislodged tooth, however, these are more easily treated than broken or even missing teeth. If this happens to your child, relieve pain by giving them an analgesic, applying a cold compress to the outside of their mouth or cheek in the affected area, and seeing your dentist
as soon as possible!
Reason 2 – Mouth Guards Can Protect Against Tooth Fractures
One of the most important reasons for wearing a dental mouth guard is to protect yourself from broken teeth, because unfortunately, if one of your teeth fractures, it’s sometimes difficult to save. Treatment can include:
- Tooth crown: Your dentist may be able to place a filling material in your tooth so that the fractured portion is replaced.
- Pulpotomy or root canal: This treatment often occurs if your dental pulp is actually exposed – your dentist will either remove a portion of the pulp with the intention of maintaining the vitality of the remaining pulpal (known as a pulpotomy), or perform root canal surgery (where they will extract root nerves from the tooth, clean and shape the canal cavity and then insert fillers to prevent bacteria from re-entering the nerve system).
- Extraction: If your tooth root is fractured close to the end of your tooth, your tooth may be able to be saved, however, if the fracture is near the crown, you may need to have your tooth extracted.
In the unfortunate event that a tooth fracture occurs, you should try and save any pieces of the tooth you can. Rinse your child’s mouth and the broken pieces of the tooth with warm water, and apply a piece of gauze to the area for 10 minutes until any bleeding stops. Give them an analgesic for the pain, apply a cold compress near the damaged tooth to reduce swelling, and again, see your dentist ASAP!
Reason 3 – Mouth Guards Can Protect Against Knocked-Out Teeth
Nobody wants to have a tooth knocked out, and it’s even worse when it happens because you or your child hasn’t been wearing a mouth guard for sport. However, if you act quickly, your tooth may be able to be saved. Teeth that are returned to their socket and are attended to by a dentist within five to 10 minutes of being knocked out have the highest chance of survival, and quick action can prevent permanent damage.
If your child does lose a tooth, pick up the tooth by the crown (the part that’s usually exposed in the mouth), and if dirty, give it a quick gentle rinse in milk or water. DO NOT scrub it or remove any tissue fragments, and if possible, try to place the tooth back into its socket immediately. Ensure it’s facing the right way, and hold the tooth in place with a soft cloth or aluminium foil that’s been placed either side of the tooth to aid stability. Ask your patient to bite down gently on it to hold it in place. If it’s not possible to return it to its socket, wrap it in cling wrap to keep it moist or place it in a small container of milk.
Reason 4 – Mouth Guards Can Protect Against Soft Tissue Injuries
Cut, bruised or grazed cheeks, lips and gums sometimes occur as a result of direct impact to the mouth area, and this often results in substantial bleeding. Because dental mouth guards help cover up the teeth’s sharp surfaces, they can also help minimise soft tissue injuries.
If this occurs, and to control bleeding you should rinse out your child’s mouth with a mild salt water solution, and use a moistened piece of gauze to apply pressure for 15 to 20 minutes. Pain can be managed with analgesics and by holding a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek for around 5 to 10 minutes. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, it’s wise to see your dentist as soon as you can, or if you’re particularly concerned, go straight to your local hospital’s emergency department.
Reason 5 – Mouth Guards Can Protect Against Jaw Fractures
Receiving a blow to the head causes teeth to jar considerably against one another, and because there isn’t a lot of space for flexibility if you’re not wearing a sports mouth guard, people who have experienced a fractured jaw will often require major surgery and months of rehabilitation.
Wearing mouth protection acts as padding for your teeth, head and jaw as it helps to absorb and spread the impact which otherwise may result in a significant mouth or jaw injury or even concussion. There are no real quick-fix solutions with jaw fractures – it’s simply a case of being diligent about wearing a sports mouth guard. Because as the old saying goes, prevention is always better than cure!