John C. Chao, DDS

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

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John C. Chao, D.D.S., M.A.G.D
Anxiety Management,
Behavior Science,
Faculty, USC School of Dentistry

Back To School: Mouthguards

More than 3.5 million children, age 14 and under, are injured while playing sports or participating in recreational activities, according to a recent statement by the American Dental Association. Most of these injuries can be prevented or minimized by the use of mouthguards.

A properly fitting mouthguard acts as a cushion when the face or jaws are subjected to traumatic forces. This cushioning effect helps prevent breakage of teeth and soft tissue injuries, such as cuts or bruising of the lips, tongue and mouth. More importantly, the danger of concussion is greatly diminished. When the lower jaw is struck unexpectedly, the impact is transmitted to the jaw joint located in front of the ear and separated from the midbrain by a thin lining of bone. If this force is sufficiently traumatic, damage and injury to the brain can occur. Mouthguards dissipate the force of the impact to all the teeth and upper and lower jaws and thus protects the vulnerable underside of the braincase.

But the mouthguard must be fitted well to get the best results. Over-the-counter products can be used. Because of the lack of good adaptation to the teeth and jaw, the level of protection may be less than optimal. They may also be too thick and unwieldy to be worn comfortably for any length of time. Young people won't use something consistently if it bothers them. The end result could be the mouthguard is not worn when the accident occurs.

The best mouthguard is one which is prescribed and customized by your dentist. An impression of the teeth and jaws are made. From this impression a virtual duplicate of the teeth and gums are molded in plaster. Your dentist will work with the dental technician and prescribe the exact bite, dimensions and materials by which the appliance will be made. The finished product will then be further adapted and adjusted to fit the patient. Your child will then be assured of the protection of a well-made mouthguard.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics 200,000 injuries are being prevented since high schools and colleges began to require mouthguards and facemasks for football. Unfortunately, many other sports do not as yet have that requirement.

What sports require mouthguards? Almost any sport where there is potential traumatic contact. The list includes soccer, basketball, flag football, softball, baseball, hockey, handball, water polo and volleyball.

When front teeth are broken, often root canal treatment and crowns become necessary. Too many times these restored front teeth fracture again at the roots and have to be extracted. Extracted teeth are generally replaced with removable stayplates (temporary dentures), and eventually with fixed-bridge work or preferably implants. As much as it is emotionally and financially stressful for the parents, it is just as regrettable to see a young patient undergo such drastic treatment when such events are preventable.

So include a dental visit as part of your children's back to school routine. If your child is engaged in any potentially risky sport, discuss with your dentist the possible benefits of a mouthguard.


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