NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - As children head back to school, and organized sports, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are reminding parents and coaches about the importance of proper and regular use of mouthguards to protect against teeth and mouth injuries.
Statistics show that each year more than 3.5 million children 14 years of age and younger suffer injuries while playing sports or participating in recreational activities, and many of these injuries involve the teeth, mouth and face.
"Take football, for instance. For many years mouthguards have been required and as a result, less than 1 percent of the injuries that we see in football involve the teeth or other parts of the mouth," Dr. Edmond Hewlett, ADA consumer advisor and associate professor at the University of California Los Angeles' School of Dentistry told Reuters Health.
"Then if you look at basketball, which traditionally is not looked at as a contact sport and where mouthguards are optional, and we see that about 35 percent of basketball injuries involve the teeth," Hewlett said. Mandatory mouthguards are now being considered in basketball due to the high rate of mouth injuries, according to Hewlett.
Soccer is another sport in which mouthguards are not, for the most part, required equipment and there is certainly a risk to the teeth in soccer.
So how does a parent choose the right mouthguard when there are dozens to choose from? According to Hewlett, there are three categories of mouthguards.
"The first is what we call the stock mouthguard -- that is the one or two sizes fit-all type. These are the least expensive type and they don't really fit the mouth precisely," Hewlett explained. Moreover, the user has to bite on it to keep it in place so it makes speaking as well as breathing difficult."
The next step up from the stock mouthguard is the so-called "boil and bite" mouthguard. "Here the wearer puts the mouthguard in hot water for a minute and then bites into it to form-fit the teeth," Hewlett said. This type fits the teeth a little more precisely than the stock guard.
The third type is the custom fit mouthguard that is "very precisely fitted to your teeth and gums by your dentist." Not surprisingly, these custom fit mouthguards fit most comfortably and "as a side benefit," Hewlett said, "they can be made in any range of colors, can incorporate the team name or logo into the mouthguard or even the child's name."
According to Hewlett, children with braces are best served by a custom-fit mouthguard, which cost around $100 dollars, "which is not bad," Hewlett said, "considering the alternative," pointing out that the types of injuries a child can sustain during sports can range from a small chipped tooth, to loosing a tooth, to jaw fractures to concussions. "And while mouthguards don't necessary prevent all of these things from happening 100 percent, they certainly reduce the likelihood," Hewlett said.
The ADA strongly recommends mouthguards for any sport where there is a risk of injury to the mouth, Hewlett noted.