Once kids get involved in sports, most parents being worrying about their health, particularly about their teeth – and keeping said teeth in the child’s mouth. Many coaches, schools, and athletic program are beginning to require mouth guards at all levels of play due to the benefits provided by the guard. A properly fitted mouth guard is the best way to keep a child’s teeth protected, but also provides other health and safety benefits that aren’t widely known. Some of the surprising benefits of mouth guards, such as the ones below, aren’t directly related to the mouth or the teeth but are important for parents to know.
Mouth guards are for more sports than just hockey and football. While most parents of football, rugby, and hockey players don’t think twice about a mouth guard, more injuries to the mouth, face, and teeth are being seen from basketball, baseball/softball, and soccer. While these sports are still considered medium contact, it is essential that parents know that there is contact during play as well as a ball traveling at a high rate of speed at face level. Even kids participating in low contact sports, such as bicycling and long-distance running, can benefit from using a mouth guard in the event of a fall.
Mouth guards protect soft tissues from injury. Mouth guards are usually thought only to protect the teeth. However, they also protect the soft tissues of the mouth from trauma and injury. A blow to the mouth not only can harm the teeth but there can also be cuts and damage to the lips, gums, inner cheeks, and tongue – all of which would be protected from the use of a mouth guard. Additionally, mouth guards also protect the wearer’s soft mouth tissues from their own teeth should they accidentally bite themselves during a fall or contact with another player.
Mouth guards reduce the risk of fractured jaws and damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The human jaw is a very complex and delicate collection of bones and joints. The TMJ is able to move up and down, side to side, and forward to back, making it a very unique joint in the body as well as one that is easily harmed. Because the mouth guard acts like a shock absorber, the chin, jaws, and TMJ are all protected during contact of any sort. TMJ disorder (TMD) is a painful, chronic condition of the TMJ which generally can only be control by using a sleep splint (a mouth guard used at night) or surgery. While most cases of TMD are congenital or hereditary, the disorder can come from severe and/or repeated trauma to the joint.
Mouth guards can reduce the risk of concussion. While there are still research studies being conducted in this area, many physicians and dentists feel that mouth guards help to reduce the risk of concussion due to the fact that the mouth guard takes the shock of a blow instead of the bones of the face. Additionally, mouth guards can stop the teeth from violently clashing together during an impact which also can lead to a greater risk of concussion and/or trauma to the muscles of the head. Finally, it is believed that mouth guards provide greater stability to the head during impact as well as increased strength of the neck and jaw muscles which also stabilizes facial joints that are easy targets for impact.
Although most kids will argue about not wanting to wear a mouth guard, the little piece of plastic will help parents feel a little bit more secure about keeping their child safe. However, mouth guards are becoming mandatory for players in most school sports and many recreational team sports. While there is no way to protect a child from every sports-related injury, a mouth guard can provide a great deal of protection to the mouth, teeth, and face. It can also provide piece of mind for parents, knowing that they have lessened some of the danger of injury to their child while playing sports.
Trina Thompson is an avid blogger and contributor to MoodyOrthodontics.com, a leading orthodontist in Austin TX.