Why Mouth Guards are Essential

Chicago Bulls player Kris Dunn suffered a nasty fall during their January 17 game against the Golden State Warriors, causing him to land face-first after a dunk – chipping and dislocating two front teeth, according to the NBA. While we wish Dunn a speedy recovery, the unfortunate accident serves a grim reminder on the importance of wearing mouth guards to protect teeth during sports and recreational play.

In early 2017, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) collected data in an independent survey* that delivered a clear message: 99 percent of parents whose children play organized sports felt youth should be required to wear mouth guards in order to play. Yet 37 percent of parents said their child never wears a mouth guard while playing sports. This includes games, practices and recreational play.

“While most parents support the concept of their children wearing mouth guards to protect their smiles, the reality is that many teeth are knocked out each year due to sports-related injuries,” says Nahid Maleki, DDS, MS, president of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO).

“Particularly with a new school year beginning soon, we hope these survey results will educate parents and coaches, and inspire young players to get in the habit of wearing a mouth guard for the sake of protecting their healthy, beautiful smiles,” says Dr. Maleki.

Pain in the Mouth; Costs to Repair Lost Tooth Far Exceeds Parent Perceptions

A mouth guard is one of the most inexpensive pieces of protective gear available to young athletes, especially when compared to the high cost of restoring a knocked out or broken tooth. According to the study, parents estimate it would cost $1,142 to replace a damaged permanent tooth, but in reality, costs to treat one knocked-out tooth over a lifetime can range from $5,000 to $20,000**. Parents and patients may not realize that restorations may have to be repeated periodically, which amplifies repair or replacements costs

Which Sports Should Require Mouth Guards?

The study revealed misconceptions about which sports pose a significant risk to the mouth. It found that most parents want mouth guards required for football (83 percent) and hockey (76 percent), sports that have long been associated with injuries. However, less than half of parents want mouth guards required for basketball (49 percent). A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association ranked basketball as the sport at the top of the list for the highest rate of dental injuries for both men’s and women’s intercollegiate athletes.

In fact, just 40 percent of parents believe injuries to children’s mouths are most likely to occur playing basketball, and 35 percent playing baseball. Lack of knowledge about mouth injuries could affect how organizations or schools approach mouth guard use by young athletes. In reality, and according to mouth guard manufacturer Shock Doctor, one in four injures on the basketball court occurs above the neck.

“What we learned from this survey is that that some parents forget, or are simply unaware, that sharp elbows or a baseball to the mouth can cause serious damage,” says Dr. Maleki. “The AAO encourages all players to wear a mouth guard – no matter the sport.” Oral injuries can happen during high-risk contact and collision sports, as well as other activities such as gymnastics or skating.

And it’s not just negligence during games; the recommendation extends to sports practices. Forty percent of parents reported that their child’s sports practices are less structured than games, and generally have few or no medical personnel nearby. Parents also said that they believe players are more likely to “showboat” at practice than at a game, which increases the chance of injury.

No More Excuses

“Every parent knows there can be a lot of resistance coming from children who don't want to wear a mouth guard,” says Dr. Maleki.

Yet, leaving mouth guard use up to a child isn’t always reliable. Among parents whose children do not always wear mouth guards, the vast majority reported in the survey that they “give in” frequently and allow their child to play a sport without one.

Nearly half of the parents surveyed think it is more difficult to get their child to wear a mouth guard than it is to eat all their vegetables without complaining.

“These data underscore how important it is for coaches, parents and young players to be on the same team when it comes to understanding the critical risks of playing sports without a mouth guard,” says Dr. Maleki. “New advances in mouth guard technology have made products affordable and easy to wear. Young athletes currently in orthodontic treatment should talk to their orthodontist about the type of mouth guard to wear during treatment.”

Click here for more information and tips on facial protection.

*The American Association of Orthodontists commissioned Wakefield Research to conduct the 2017 AAO Sports Survey among 1,000 U.S. parents whose children play organized sports. The survey was conducted in January 2017 using an email invitation and an online survey. The overall sampling error rate for this survey is +/- 3.1 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence.

**Sports Health, “Common Dental Injury Management in Athletes,” vol. 7, no. 3, May-June 2015, p. 250.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) is open exclusively to orthodontists - only orthodontists are admitted for membership. The only doctors who can call themselves “orthodontists” have graduated from dental school and then successfully completed the additional two-to-three years of education in an accredited orthodontic residency program.

When you choose an AAO orthodontist for orthodontic treatment, you can be assured that you have selected a specialist orthodontist, an expert in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics who possesses the skills and experience to give you your best smile.