Dental Injuries in Sports and How to Help Your Child Prevent Them

As we find ourselves in the middle of the warmest season of the year, baseball season is in full swing, football and soccer seasons are rapidly approaching, and winter sports will be starting again before you know it. Living in Long Island, sports can be a way of life for kids, and if you’re a parent of one of these children, it is easy to be worried about their safety when they step on the field. Cuts, bruises, and broken bones occur far too often and leave parents taking every precaution to ensure their child’s safety. However, one area of the body that parents and children tend not to think about when taking precautions, is the teeth. Oral injuries run rampant in youth sports, both contact and non-contact alike. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, 13-39% of all dental injuries are caused by sports, and 52% of these sports injuries are caused by sports other than football, a sport most people would assume causes almost all dental injuries. Sports like baseball and lacrosse, one of the most popular sports in Long Island, can cause significant damage to an athlete’s teeth. Certain injuries such as a chipped or cracked tooth are less serious and can be fixed through cosmetic dentistry. However, if a tooth were struck with large enough force, by either a ball or another player, the injury could be much more serious, and affect the teeth on a functional level. Fractures, knocked out teeth, and dead teeth can require significant surgery for an athlete. So how do you ensure the safety of your child’s smile this season? It’s simple. It’s just a matter of preparation and diligence.

Tips On How to Help Your Child Avoid Dental Injuries

Make Them Wear A Mouthguard
Child wearing mouth guard - Clock Tower DentalRegardless of the sport, young athletes should always wear a mouthguard.

In non-contact sports, kids rarely wear mouthguards to protect themselves. One elbow to the mouth or groundball gone awry, and you’re looking at a painful injury and expensive dental surgery. For example, it’s estimated only 7% of baseball and softball players wear mouthguards, despite the hazards those sports present to an athlete’s oral health. Baseballs and softballs are flying off bats at increasingly higher speeds and present a very real danger.

When purchasing a mouthguard, buying the first one you see and giving it to your child is not enough to ensure the proper safety of their teeth. Educated shopping is vital. There are many different shapes and sizes, and it is pivotal you get the one that is the best fit for your child. Most dentists will recommend getting a custom fit mouthguard to ensure the most comfortable and effective experience for the young athlete. However, generic mouthguards can be fitted to a child’s mouth by using the “boil technique,” which has you boil the mouthguard in hot water and shape it to their mouths.

Stress Helmets and Facemasks
Child wearing helmet - Clock Tower DentalAlmost all sports currently require helmets to avoid head injuries, but making sure the helmet is a proper fit for the athlete is critical in maintaining their oral health. If a helmet is too loose, it defeats its intended purpose and can leave your child susceptible to mouth injuries.

In addition to this, facemasks are critical at a young age. For softball, baseball, and hockey, it can be easy for a child to stray away from face masks when they see their heroes in the pros wearing helmets without masks. However, stressing the mask at a youth level is a key step in preventing oral injuries. Baseballs, softballs, and hockey pucks carry a lot of mass, and when they pick up speed, they can cause serious damage to an athlete’s face. Wearing a facemask eases minds and eliminates the possibility of injury when they step on the field of play.

How to Respond to a Possible Dental Injury

Nowadays, when an athlete at any level is hit in the head, they are immediately taken out of the game in order to undergo concussion protocols. This is a preventive measure that is helping the athletic community take a step forward in the fight against CTS. In order to protect an athlete’s dental health, these injuries must be taken just as seriously and treated with the same care. If an athlete gets hit in the mouth during a game, taking them off to the side and checking their teeth for damage can make a world of difference. Chipped teeth will be misshapen, but a crack might be harder to see. Symptoms of a crack include pain, sensitivity, and even bad breath. If a tooth was to become cracked or chipped, it is more prone to increased damage if it were to be impacted again.  It is much easier and far less expensive to fix a crack or a chip, than to put in a cap or replace a tooth entirely. Dentists can insert a filling or a veneer in these situations to fix the tooth’s structure and appearance. However, leaving possible dental injuries unchecked can cause far more serious and expensive damage. For example, when hit with enough force, the nerves inside a tooth can actually die, causing a “dead tooth.” With every impact to the mouth, there is a chance that the tooth nerve is dead. A dead tooth will be evident by the gray discoloration, and can only be fixed one of two ways; root canal surgery, or having the tooth removed completely. In a situation where the tooth would need to removed, the need for a dental implant would arise in order to completely regain their smile. Similar to a root canal, a dental implant would require a minor surgery to fix the injured area. Both these options are painful and expensive and can hopefully be avoided by being careful on the field. Treating these injuries seriously and operating with caution can go a long way in ensuring the damage stays minor.

It is important to remember dental injuries are real, they are dangerous, and they are expensive. Your child may resist some of your precautions due to them being “annoying” or “distracting,” but it is in everyone’s best interest they take full care of their smile while competing in sports. By fully preparing a young athlete with the proper equipment, and taking any potential oral injuries seriously, you can create a fun and safe experience for your child on the field this upcoming season with lots of smiles.

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