Vail Daily Dental Health: Custom mouthguards prevent more injuries |

Vail Daily Dental Health: Custom mouthguards prevent more injuries

Dr. Jim Harding
Vail Daily medical correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –The field of sports dentistry continues to grow as more and more people participate in extreme sports popularized by events such as the X-Games.

Sports dentistry is essentially the prevention and treatment of oral and facial injuries. Dental injuries are the most common type of facial injuries for athletes and the majority of these injuries are actually preventable.

Young athletes who have a tooth knocked out can anticipate upwards of $20,000 worth of lifetime dental costs associated with just that one tooth. In addition to these expenses, the person can suffer through lost work time, emotional and psychological scars and pain. These facts make it essential for dental professionals involved in sports to educate the public about the prevention of dental sports injuries.

The first and most critical message is that the “boil and bite” mouthguards are not thick enough in the most vulnerable areas and do not provide optimum protection in the prevention of dental injuries and concussions. This is unfortunate because athletes and their parents purchase these items expecting a certain level of protection, which is simply not there. While the store-bought varieties are relatively inexpensive and represent over 90 percent of the mouthguards purchased today, they can also fit poorly and interfere with speech, breathing and swallowing. Therefore, they are less likely to be worn.

Athletes can also see a dentist for a custom-fit mouthguard. These guards can be somewhat more expensive, but they are made to fit very accurately to the athlete’s mouth with minimal interference to speech, breathing and swallowing. These types of guards can be made to an ideal thickness in order to properly reduce or prevent dental injuries and concussions.

The American Dental Association estimates that mandatory use of athletic mouthguards prevents approximately 200,000 injuries each year in high school and collegiate football alone. A properly-fitted mouthguard must be both comfortable and resilient, but it must also be of sufficient thickness to serve the intended purpose. Research completed by the Academy of Sports Dentistry has demonstrated that stock mouthguards simply have minimal effectiveness in the prevention of both tooth injuries and concussions, especially when compared to custom-fitted mouthguards.

A third area of the mouthguard industry is also developing at a rapid pace, the so-called “performance mouthguard” is designed as much for increased strength, balance and overall improved athletic performance as it is for tooth protection. These guards utilize repositioning of the bite to better align the athletes head, neck and spine for this increased strength. While this is not necessarily a new concept, it is an area of sports dentistry that is being hotly debated.

The bottom line is that a tooth that is knocked out of the mouth and not reinserted in the first few minutes has virtually no chance of successfully being saved and the cumulative affect of multiple concussions can lead to lifelong medical problems. These two very scary topics make it imperative that athletes and their parents understand the importance of properly-fitted and fabricated athletic mouthguards to prevent injuries.

Dr. Jim Harding is a member of the Academy of Sports Medicine and will be attending the 2010 international symposium this summer in Arlington, Virginia. The Harding Dental Center ( is located in Avon and offers a full continuum of dental care from preventative and cosmetic to complex restorations.

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