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1-mouthguardMost people know that it is important for professional athletes to wear mouthguards for proper oral protection, but far fewer people think that the practice is necessary for young athletes in middle or high school. In fact, it is even more important for young athletes to protect their teeth and prevent the necessity of oral surgery and possible risk of permanent damage.

Concussions are usually far more concerning to parents than mouth injuries, particularly in sports like soccer, skateboarding, or gymnastics where less padding is usually required. This is an even larger problem for child and young adult athletes with orthodonture, as the extra hardware in the mouth attached to the teeth can lead to more excessive injury to the teeth on impact, as well as damage to cheeks and gums.

From this WGN article from Chicago: “Cameron Kleinberg, lost teeth on soccer field: “I got head butted, and my two front teeth came flying out. Surprisingly enough I caught them.” Teeth in hands, as a junior, after years wearing braces … His perfect smile was gone in an instant. “It was pretty brutal. I had to get 16 stitches. It wasn’t fun.” The high school athletic trainer did exactly what he was supposed to do – inserted the teeth back into the sockets to preserve blood flow.”

More than five million children and adults have their teeth knocked out every year. If this happens to you or your child, some emergency steps to take, from the American Association of Endodontists:

  • See an endodontist, dentist, or oral surgeon, or get to the emergency room within 30 minutes of the injury. More time will most likely equal an unsuccessful replanting of the tooth.
  • Pick up the tooth, if you can locate it. Do not leave it at the site of the accident, if you can help it.
  • Touch only the chewing part (the crown) NOT the root of the tooth. Handle it carefully, and try not to touch or damage the root in handling.
  • Rinse tooth with water, saline mixture, or cold milk. Do not wash with soap or other chemicals or disinfectants.
  • Do not try to scrub the tooth clean, simply rinse.
  • If you can, try to put the tooth back into the now empty socket. This will prevent some pain of nerve and bone exposure in the mouth and keep the tooth moist.
  • If you cannot keep the tooth moist by placing it back in the socket, you should keep it moist by placing it in a first-aid tooth-preservation kit, into cold milk, or ideally in your mouth between your gums and cheek. Teeth do not stand up well to being left in water, and the root surface cells do not tolerate water. You need these for the tooth to take once it has been placed by a dentist.

The optimal way to prevent tooth injury leading to oral surgery is a mouth guard. This may be difficult for some children, as they are not as common in sports like soccer as they are in, say,  football, but in any sport there is danger of teeth being knocked out and causing permanent damage. There are several types of mouthguards available:

Stock mouth guards come ready to wear from a sporting goods store or major department store with a sporting supply department. They come already formed, and do not fit all mouths well. They are more affordable, but are also more likely to make breathing and talking difficult, and they do not provide accurate protection as they are not form-fitting to the teeth and shock can still damage the jaw and teeth.

Boil and Bite mouth guards are bought at many of the same places as the stock mouth guards, and are made from thermoplastic material. When you warm the material up by placing it into boiling water, it becomes soft enough to mold around your teeth with your fingers and tongue.

Custom-fitted mouth guards are the most protective and most likely to prevent tooth injury leading to oral surgery. These are fitted by your dentist making an impression of your teeth, and either made on site or the casts are sent to a laboratory where a fully-custom mouth protector will be created. Due to the technical specifications and labor involved, these are usually the most expensive, but they are usually most comfortable and are definitively safer. These are especially recommended with orthodonture in place.