In honor of the impending NCAA basketball tournament (and not as a not-so-subtle suggestion to join the famous Farrell Family Dentistry Bracket pool) I would like to discuss the difference between the four people you see in the picture above. The one person that does not belong in the same stratosphere as the rest is, of course, Michael Jordan. The other three athletes go to great lengths to emphasize dental safety by proudly displaying their mouth guards during competition. Whether it is the NBA, the local co-ed team, or the over-35-but-6-feet-and-under church league, everyone should protect their teeth by wearing the proper protection.
If I ever have a chance to sit down with “His Airness” one of the first things I would discuss with him was his lack of dental protection. During his career, didn’t he know that he was a role model to millions of basketball playing kids? Did he have some deep, dark secrets causing resentment for his pearly whites? Perhaps he didn’t know the many benefits of mouth guards and that dental injuries are the most common orofacial sports related injuries. As we spend the next few weeks watching a lot of basketball, let’s keep a close eye on the teams and scores, but an even closer eye on who is exhibiting proper dental safety.
There are a number of benefits to wearing a mouth guard, even if you don’t live in fear of a 50-something year old female blocking a lay-up attempt back into your face like I do. A mouth guard will prevent the sharp edges of your teeth from going into, or possibly through, the soft tissues of your cheeks and lips. They can also prevent tooth fractures or avulsions (a fancy term for a tooth flying across the court) by redistributing the forces related to an “inadvertent” elbow. In addition to protecting a single tooth, it protects the mandibular (bottom) teeth from violently hitting the maxillary (upper) teeth which can cause extensive damage to both arches. Lastly, wearing a mouth guard can prevent concussions by increasing the space between your condyle and the base of your skull thereby reducing a mandibular impact translating into the skull.
There are a few different mouth guard options, but not all are created equal.
Stock mouth guards – These basically work by fitting so poorly they prevent you from breathing, causing you to pass out and be taken out of the game. They come in a variety of sizes: don’t fit, really don’t fit, and made for a crocodile. Bottom line, don’t buy them because you won’t be able to tolerate it in your mouth while sitting for 5 minutes let alone attempting to play a sport.
Boil and bite mouth guards – These mouth guards fit much better than the stock mouth guards because they are made out of a thermoplastic material that can be heated and “molded” to your teeth. There are two main limitations to these mouth guards. The first is that, due to a lack of durability, the tight fit minimizes over time leading it to coming out or often being chewed on. The second is deficient thickness on the molars, which inadequately prevents concussions.
Custom-made mouth guards – These are designed by a dentist and provide adequate thickness throughout the dental arch with a durability and comfort level that allows the athletes to remain relatively unencumbered while playing their sport. These can also be customized to a specific sport by varying the hardness/softness and overall thickness in different areas of the mouth guard. Another reason custom-made mouth guards are the best as you can see in the picture… cuz ‘Merica. The main drawback to custom-made mouth guards is the price, but a mouth guard costs a fraction of what it costs to replace a broken or lost tooth.
Now that you better understand the reasons for having a mouth guard, the potential risks of playing a sport without one, and the different options available I do have to admit there are circumstances where mouth guards will offer no support. A mouth guard is essentially useless to the inevitable beating you will take should you choose to participate against Dr. Farrell in the Farrell Family Dentistry Bracket pool. Thankfully Dr. Farrell has been convinced to show mercy and still give out Zoom Whitening and gift cards even if he beats everyone else in the field, again.
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