Sports guards, also known as mouth guards and gum shields, are a regular sight on our sports channels.
But what are they actually protecting against? Dental trauma comes in may shapes and forms. Those injuries which sportsguards can help to reduce are numerous and include:
- Crown fracture, where the part of the tooth you can usually see is damaged. This can range from a corner chipping off, to the whole crown being broken away.
- Root fracture, where the underlying foundation is broken. Again there is a range of outcomes here, but this injury is usually bad news!
- Luxation injury, where the whole tooth is moved, and the blood supply to the pulp damaged as a result.
- Avulsion, where the entire tooth gets knocked out. (Follow this advice if this happens).
- Pulp injury, which can also occur after a seemingly small knock (as opposed to luxation above), and months or years later the pulp dies on its own as a result.
- Injury to deciduous teeth, also known as milk teeth. Such injuries can sometimes damage the permanent successor that lies in the gum under the milk tooth.
- Some soft tissue injuries can also be reduced with a gum shield, including lacerations to the lips and gums.
- As well as damage to your own natural tissues, any dental work like crowns, veneers or bridgework is at high risk of dislodgement with trauma. It’s a common reason for losing a crown or two!
As you can see, there are a lot of potential dental trauma types – all of which can be reduced by wearing a sportsguard. Read the ADA statement on such here.
Is it really worth spending all that money at the dentist when your 5-year-old is probably going to grow out of Lacrosse, or grow out of his gumshield, in just a few months?
Let’s look at five examples why it probably is.
1. You can’t be too careful
Starting with ice hockey in North America, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby was playing a match when his team-mate’s slapshot hit him in the face, despite the fact that he was wearing an NHL approved one-third face visor at the time.
Coverage of the match back in March 2013 included replays showing him losing multiple teeth when the puck hit his face, which also broke his lower jaw. Even a helmet doesn’t quite cut it on a bad day then, proving that there’s no such thing as too much safety in some sports.
2. Keep your guard up
Some people might think that these dangerous sports are just best avoided. You never know when danger is about to strike, however, as boxer Richard ‘the Alien’ Grant found out after his match with James ‘Harlem Hammer’ Butler in November 2001. When the match was over and both players had removed their gloves, Butler approached Grant as if to shake his hand.
When Grant outstretched his hand in return however, Butler punched him in the face, shattering his jaw. Butler served time in prison for the assault, but Grant never regained his pre-match strength. Probably best to keep your sportsguard in until you’re on your way home then.
Sure, your dentist can fix you up with bespoke dental equipment, but it doesn’t have to cost that much. A quick scan of some well-known websites and you only need to spend less than 5 dollars to get a boil and bite mouth protector.
A custom-made device from your dentist is a much better idea, if you want to guarantee a good fit and maximum protection. The cost of a sports guard will be a lot less than the lifetime fees of a knocked out tooth!
But for a few games of Lacrosse on a Wednesday after school for someone who hasn’t tried it before, the ‘boil-and-bite’ type better than nothing.
4. It’s so you
At the other end of the market, it is possible to have a guard that would look better in your wardrobe than in the gym bag. GrillGuards in the USA has a photo gallery with a few ideas, including writing ‘say your prayers’ on the front, or ‘terror’, ‘Lion’s Den’, etc, to name just a few.
Your team colours, or national flag, would obviously be no problem. Or, you could take inspiration from Lebron James in the NBA, who appears to have adopted sportsguards as fashion. His sportsguard ‘wardrobe’ includes a vampire guard, a Miami Heat team colours guard, and the Roman numerals XVI. This last one was the focus of much media attention before it was revealed to be an inspirational reference to championship wins by the basketball player. Nice.
5. Common sense
And then there’s what your mum would say. Not wearing a mouthguard during athletic activity increases your risk of dental injury by 60% to 90%.1 And that’s not even for contact sport.
So, whichever way you look at it, wearing a gum shield during contact sport is a no-brainer. Whether you need to wear it in the changing room afterwards though, is a completely different matter.
1. Knapik JJ, Marshall SW, Lee RB, Darakjy SS, Jones SB, Mitchener TA, delaCruz GG, Jones BH. Mouthguards in sport activities: history, physical properties and injury prevention effectiveness. Sports Medicine 2007; 37(2):117-144. (Synopsis)