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NEWS | July 15, 2008

Better to be safe with a mouth guard than sorry

By Senior Airman Stephanie Bernique-Garcia 437th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Deily Dental Clinic

It's easy to take some things for granted until they are suddenly gone. Imagine what it would be like to lose one or two front teeth. A properly fitted mouth guard is an important piece of athletic gear to protect a smile.

So what is a mouth guard? A mouth guard is a resilient plastic appliance that has been designed in a fashion where it covers and protects an athlete's teeth, gums and the bone that supports them. The idea is that when a guard is worn, it helps to provide protection for the hard teeth and jawbone as well as the soft lips, cheeks and gum tissues of the mouth. It does so by absorbing and redistributing the forces generated by traumatic hits.

The importance of an athlete wearing a sports mouthpiece when participating in almost any type of sport can't be over-emphasized. The most significant benefits a mouth guard can provide are protection against damage to teeth and dental work. When a hit is delivered to the mouth, the forces of the impact are absorbed by the structures the hit lands upon. In the case of hard oral tissues, such as teeth, a forceful impact can easily cause a tooth to fracture, result in tooth dislodgement or damage existing dental work such as dental crowns, bridges, porcelain veneers and dental implants.

A sports mouth guard can help dissipate the total amount of energy that has to be absorbed by any one tooth or region of the mouth. The spongy resiliency of a mouth guard helps to absorb some of the energy of a hit. Also, the stiffness of the mouth guard can help to distribute the energy of a traumatic force for a greater surface area. Both of these effects will lessen the total force load any one tooth is subject to and, therefore, lessen the likelihood that chipping, breaking or even tooth dislodgement could occur.

Along these same lines, to some degree, a mouth protector can help to prevent a jawbone fracture. A mouth guard's resiliency and stiffness both come into play once again and can help to minimize the total amount of force any one portion of the jaw is subject to.

Sports guards can also provide protection from bruising and cutting of the soft tissues of the mouth as well and can help to minimize the amount of soft tissue damage caused by a traumatic event. A forceful hit can press a person's lips or cheeks against teeth, dental work or dental appliances in a way where they could become pierced or torn. The violent jaw movements created by a hit or collision can result in a biting laceration of the lips, cheeks or tongue.

Mouth guards can act as a buffer between the soft and hard tissues of the mouth. The rounded contours of a guard can help to protect soft tissues. Athletes participating in different sports, from football to even non-contact sports such as tennis, should wear mouth protectors. This includes all time periods during which the sport is being played, both formal competition and practice. With other sports, the potential for forceful contact between participants or with objects is somewhat more easily overlooked and the use of mouth guards is not typically mandated.

Most people might not think of basketball as a heavy contact sport, but those who play it can tell others it can become quite physical at times. One might assume baseball provides less opportunity for traumatic incident than basketball, but studies have suggested that both of these sports can share a common injury rate.

All athletes participating in any contact sport should wear a mouth guard. A list of contact sports would, at minimum, include the following: football, boxing, ice hockey, roller hockey, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, soccer, basketball, water polo, martial arts and wrestling. Other sports, while typically not considered true contact sports, can still place the athlete at risk and therefore should necessitate the use of a mouth protector. Anyone participating in baseball, racquetball, squash, handball, skiing, skateboarding, rollerblading, skydiving, volleyball, surfing, acrobatics, gymnastics, tennis and bicycling should protect their mouth with a guard.

Whether an avid athlete or an occasional participant, include a mouth guard when gathering up gear to play the game. Don't let the next trip to the dentist be an emergency visit.

For active-duty members to receive a mouth guard or for more information, contact the 437th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Deily Dental Clinic at 963-6845.