How to Prevent Oral Injuries When Participating in Sports

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When it comes to participating in sports, the face and mouth are some of the most vulnerable parts of the body. Sports injuries are the biggest source of injuries to the teeth and mouth in older adolescents and adults, accounting for up to 40% of dental injuries. Up to a third of all sports injuries occur in the face in the “T-zone” bones in the face; nose, zygoma (the bony arch of the cheek) and mandible (the lower jawbone).

Trauma from sports injuries may include avulsed or knocked out teeth, lacerations of the face, bone fractures in the cheeks, nose or eye socket, intraoral lacerations, or fractured jaws. Treating these injuries requires experience and skill to minimize not just the physical trauma to the patient, but the potential emotional fallout as well.

Injuries to the face are classified as 1) soft tissue injuries to the gums and the skin, 2) bony injuries from fractures, and 3) injuries to those regions involving the eyes, salivary glands or facial nerves.

Soft tissue injuries are the most common and might involve lacerations or cuts to the lips, abrasions, and contusions, where damage occurs to the blood vessels.

Fractures to the mandible and the zygomatic bone (cheekbone), are also common.

Injuries to the teeth might result in tooth intrusion (where the tooth is pushed upwards or downwards into the socket of the tooth, or tooth extrusion where the tooth is displaced (or moved) partially out of the socket can lead to eventual loss of the tooth. Avulsion involves a tooth being knocked out of its socket completely.

To prevent oral and facial injuries, one of the first lines of defense is wearing protective equipment such as a sports or athletic mouth guard. The American Dental Association recommends wearing these to help prevent damage to your teeth, any previous dental work, braces, and even injuries to the jaw. Players in the field of hockey, football, soccer, basketball or sports bikers routinely wear these for protection.

Not all mouthguards offer equal levels of protection though. You want the guard to protect against injury to the teeth, tongue, lips, gingival, mucosa and cheeks. A properly fitting mouthguard can and absorb shock from a blow to the face, as well as protect against head and neck injuries like concussions by keeping a separation between the head of the mandibular condyle and the base of the skull.

Custom Mouthguard
You want the guard to be thick enough to absorb shock and fit securely so it stays in place when experiencing impact. It should protect the teeth that are in the arch as well as the tissues around it and have a seated equilibrated occlusion to keep the bite even. Custom made mouthguards made by a dentist using a cast mold of your mouth for the best fit. They also allow for ease of breathing and don’t impair speech, and are the most comfortable to wear of all the types.

Formed Mouthguard
Next is a mouth formed protector, which can be either a shell-liner or a thermoplastic mouthguard. The first is made of a preformed shell lined with plastic acrylic or a silicone rubber material while a thermoplastic mouthguard (or boil and bite guard) can be molded continuously to fit your teeth.

Stock Mouthguard
Wearing a stock mouthguard is the least expensive option and you can pick one up in a pharmacy, sporting goods store, or order online. The downside to these is that they usually do not fit well and can interfere with speech, breathing, and are often the least comfortable to wear.

Facial Cage and Helmet
Other forms of protection against facial trauma for athletes includes wearing a face cage (you see these on hockey goalies, football players and baseball catchers). Helmets are worn to protect the head from concussion or fracture by athletes in football, lacrosse, hockey, as well as skiers, snowboarders, snowmobile riders, auto racers and even cyclists who want to keep the face from hitting the ground in a fall.

You can proactively deter oral and maxillofacial injury during sports or recreational activities by wearing protective gear. If you have any questions for our team, please give us a call today.