By Theresa Ahearn
Sports are not only a cornerstone of American culture but also provide numerous physical and mental health benefits to millions of people each year.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, over 77% of Americans aged six and older participated in at least one sports activity in 2022. However, while sports offer many benefits, they also present a potential risk for dental injuries. The face, being the most vulnerable part of the body, is often the least protected, leaving athletes at risk of orofacial injuries during sports. Unfortunately, many athletes are unaware of the potential severity of these injuries, both to the mouth and the head. This is where dentists can make a significant impact by educating athletes, coaches, and patients on the criticality of orofacial injury prevention in sports.
Preventing and Treating Sports-Related Injuries
In the medical and dental profession, prevention is always better than needing a cure. Preventing sports-related dental injuries is a critical aspect of sports dentistry, and dental professionals play a vital role in achieving this objective. Dentists can educate patients, such as athletes, parents, guardians, and coaches, about the significance of preventative measures to safeguard their teeth during sports activities.
During appointments, discussing the patient's physical activity and the potential risks to their teeth during sports is essential. To enhance patient education, informative materials such as brochures, videos, and infographics can be created to explain the dangers of dental injuries during sports activities and the benefits of properly fitted mouthguards. Additionally, dental practices should stand ready to provide emergency dental care and prompt treatment for sudden facial trauma resulting from contact sports. Bone fractures and tooth injuries can have severe long-term physical consequences; patients should be educated on the importance of seeking prompt treatment in case of an injury, know where to access emergency dental care, and understand that timely care reduces the risk of dental injuries causing permanent damage.
Mouthguards and Dental Injury Prevention
Wearing mouthguards during sports activities has been proven to reduce dental injury risk significantly. A meta-analysis study showed that the probability of sustaining an orofacial injury was 1.6 to 1.9 times higher when a mouthguard was not used. Additionally, a separate study indicated that implementing mouthguards among high school and college football players led to a considerable decrease in the incidence of dental injuries. These preventative measures not only reduce the risk of orofacial trauma, but they can also significantly reduce the cost of these injuries. But remember, not all mouthguards are created equal.
The American Dental Association and International Academy of Sports Dentistry advocate using custom-fitted mouthguards, especially for collision sports. Custom-fitted mouthguards offer superior protection, adaptation, and comfort while reducing the likelihood of concussions and other severe injuries. When dentists consult with patients on the ideal mouthguard, it is critical to consider the patient's occlusion, comfort, and breathing ability during fabrication.
Unfortunately, even when wearing mouthguards, dental literature has demonstrated that injuries to the dentoalveolar region can still occur. To fully maximize the effectiveness of mouthguards, it is essential to pair them with appropriate protective gear such as helmets, face shields, and eye protection. With complete protective equipment, athletes can confidently participate in sports while ensuring the safety of their teeth and avoiding any potential damage to their smiles.
In conclusion, dental professionals are critical in preventing orofacial injuries during sports activities. Through education and communication, they can effectively minimize the risk of dental injuries and help athletes maintain healthy and confident smiles. Properly fitted mouthguards and appropriate protective gear are essential for athletes to reduce the risk of dental injuries. Regular check-ups and prompt emergency dental care can prevent further damage and complications. Finally, by working collaboratively with dental professionals and taking a proactive approach to dental care, athletes can confidently pursue their sports without worrying about compromised dental health.
If you're not yet subscribed to receive the Incisor newsletter, filled with cutting-edge dental news sent directly to your inbox twice a month, you can do so here.
Author: Theresa Ahearn is a versatile writer based in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Her diverse portfolio spans academia, research, healthcare, news, and technology, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the New York Institute of Technology and a Master of Science from Central Connecticut State University.