Thursday, December 03, 2009

A split decision on kids sports and mouth guards

Generally speaking, doctors agree on all things youth sports. Stay hydrated. Avoid pitching both ends of a doubleheader. At the hint of a concussion, head for the sidelines.

Then there are dentists who all of a sudden seem not to agree on very much. They're split on the biggest issue I can think of pertaining to kids sports and teeth: whether to wear mouth guards.

For a long time, the consensus was to wear them in team sports, as protection against getting smacked in the mouth with an errant knee or a fastball that got away. In Connecticut, apparently that hasn't changed. Dr. Bruce Tandy, president of the Connecticut State Dental Association, recently said: "A misdirected elbow in a volleyball match or misplayed header in a soccer game can leave you with chipped or broken teeth, nerve damage to a tooth or even tooth loss. A mouth protector can limit the risk of such injuries as well as protect the soft tissues of your tongue, lips and cheek lining."

That sounds like the cautionary speech my dentist used to give at least once a week. (Footnote: My dad was a dentist).

Now there's a competing view. A study published this fall in Sports Health found that mouth guards can increase the number and intensity of mouth cuts and abrasions, "exposing an athlete to an increased chance of infection due to the bacteria, yeast, and fungi that mouth guards routinely collect."

Sobering choice, broken teeth or fungi.


Jessie B said...

Can't somebody design a better mouth guard? Then we could also encourage kids to clean them and replace them regularly. Would storing them in some kind of mouth rinse help? If nothing else, it might improve breath on the playing field!

Sue T. said...

Mouth guards don't only protect your teeth, they protect your tongue. There have been many players who have chomped good pieces out of their tongues because they weren't wearing mouth guards. Also, a face first fall on the basketball court would have prevented our friends teeth from going through his lip.