With the school year starting back up, so do sports, and subsequently, sports injuries. Sports dentistry devotes itself to the prevention and treatment of injuries sustained in athletic competition. These injuries can involve not only the teeth and mouth, but believe it or not, injuries to the brain, which is manifested as a concussion. The most important preventive tool we have is a well-made mouthguard.
There are several different types of mouthguards available. The most common is the “boil and bite” mouthguards found in a variety of stores. These can work well if made properly and worn in a sport where the player’s face is protected by a facemask. The biggest problem with these types of mouthguards is that they can easily be fabricated incorrectly. Biting too hard into the softened material allowing it to become very thin is the most common problem. Ever wonder how a boxer can be hit square on the chin and gets “knocked out”? One of the most important functions of a well-made mouthguard is the prevention of concussive injuries to the brain. When a blow is received to the chin, the lower jaw is driven up into the base of the skull. This results in the brain being subjected to a large amount of force, which literally causes the brain to be “bounced around” inside the skull. The result is a concussion. The more we learn about concussions today, the more we know how important it is too prevent and treat them correctly. Even a single concussion can have life long consequences. There is even one particular brand of mouthguard marketed under the name of Brain-Pad. The best mouthguards are ones manufactured using molds of the player’s mouths. These are well fitting and are made thicker to provide much better protection to the teeth and brain. These can be customized with team colors and logos. They are much more comfortable and players can typically speak well when they are being worn.
In my 27 years of practice, the worst sports injuries I have treated have involved the sports of basketball, baseball and soccer. Very few involve football and hockey because of the use of facemasks. Basketball is by far the sport with the most injuries to the teeth. The game by nature is played with a player’s elbows up around shoulder level, which results in a number of blows to another player’s mouth. Unfortunately, these injuries are usually much worse than a chipped tooth. Many times the teeth involved are broken off at gum level or knocked out completely. Root canals and crowns are very common results of these injuries.
Mouthguards may also be used to improve athletic performance. There is research from Under Armour that supports the theory stating that by positioning the jaws in a certain way using a specially constructed mouthguard, a measurable increase in a player’s athletic ability may be noted.
As co-team dentist for the NBA Dallas Mavericks, we provide all of the players with custom fitted mouthguards, and you have probably seen several of the players wearing them during games. If you have questions, or need assistance with getting a mouthguard made properly, don’t hesitate to contact our office.