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Shelley Shearer: Mouthguards are an essential back-to-school item to protect student-athletes

You don’t have to be a LeBron James to wear a mouthguard when participating in sports activities.

With fall sports practices starting this month, student-athletes and their parents should heed the advice of the American Dental Association. It recommends that anyone participating in a sport with a high risk for injury (think football, basketball, hockey, soccer, wrestling, and basketball) have a mouth protector.

Blows to the mouth are riskier than many parents believe. An ADA study found that 27 percent of parents revealed they rushed their child to the emergency department upon receiving an injury in an organized sport. Of all the traumatic dental injuries, approximately 80 percent involved the two front teeth.

The ADA says an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer harm to the teeth when not wearing a mouthguard. That should convince parents of student-athletes as well as athletes of any age to wear this important protective appliance.

Mouthguards are also known as mouth protectors. They usually cover the upper teeth and help cushion any blows to the face, thus minimizing the risk of broken teeth and injuries to the soft tissues of the mouth. If you aren’t convinced already, a mouthguard should be considered an essential part of the complete sports uniform.

The best mouthguard is one that has been custom made by a dentist for an individual’s mouth when the adult teeth have come in, usually by the age of 11. It’s the primary way to get the best fit and comfort. Dentists are also asked about the “boil and bite” mouthguards. These are purchased at a drugstore or sporting goods department and then boiled to the point of being pliable. It is then placed in the mouth to fit the contours around the teeth. The best way to make the decision is to consult with your dentist. Some factors such as a child’s braces should be considered.

One of the most frequent questions posed to dentists is how to care for the mouthguard. Here are a few tips:

 Never leave a mouthguard in the sun or in hot water. Heat can alter the shape and make wearing it more painful than being smacked in the face.

 Check for signs of wear. Remember, kids’ bodies are maturing and they can certainly outgrow their mouthguard.

 Keep the mouthguard clean and dry between use. Rinse it before and after wearing with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

 If used several times a week, clean it weekly with cool, soapy water. Then thoroughly rinse it. There’s no need to re-live grandma’s stories about cleaning a mouth with soap if no dirty words have been uttered.

 Bring your mouthguard to your regular dental checkup. Your dentist will examine it to ensure the fit is still correct and may even clean it for you.

 Store the mouthguard in a dry, sturdy container that has some ventilation slits. This will keep it dry and bacteria free. It will also prevent the family dog from thinking it’s a chewable play toy.

Of course there is one more use of a mouthguard and that’s for those who grind their teeth at night.

Dentists use a type of bite plate that helps prevent damage to the teeth. They can be custom fit to match a person’s bite. When worn, it reduces jaw activity, lessens the grinding and allows sweet dreams for the wearer.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep and peace of mind for athletes and their parents in the coming school year!

Dr. Shelley Shearer is a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School and Founder of Shearer Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Florence, the largest all-female dental practice in Northern Kentucky.

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