Q&A with Dr. Rick Caldwell, President of the Ontario Dental Association
Mouth injuries caused by sports- and recreation-related accidents are still surprisingly common among both children and adults, says Dr. Rick Caldwell, president of the Ontario Dental Association (ODA).
Dr. Caldwell answered questions about the importance of wearing mouthguards to reduce the risk of dental trauma that can result in damage to teeth, jaws and the temporomandibular joint as well as to the soft tissues of the mouth.
Who should consider wearing a mouthguard, and when should they do so?
Properly fitted mouthguards are essential for both children and adults in any sport where there is a risk of contact with other players or hard surfaces such as turf or ice. Hockey tends to be in the headlines, and minor hockey leagues have been very good at protecting players and reducing injuries through the use of mouthguards, helmets, face shields and cages.
But in any sport or recreational activity where there is a risk of any type of physical contact or fall, you can end up with a mouth injury.
Any time it’s a good idea to wear a helmet – even for the Olympic freestyle skiers, for example – it’s also a good idea to wear a mouthguard.
Is it difficult for parents to enforce mouthguard use, especially with their teenagers?
I make a lot of mouthguards for teenaged hockey and lacrosse players, and fortunately for them, most of the leagues mandate they be worn – if they don’t wear them, they don’t play. This wise decision by the sports federations has significantly cut down on the amount and extent of injuries.
Are there additional measures that can help further reduce the risk of severe injury?
We encourage wearing a helmet and face cage in any sport in which it is an option.
In addition, children in the greatest danger of dental injuries are those who have orthodontic issues where there is a large overbite, with the front teeth protruding forward. These children tend to experience more severe trauma from falls, even just tripping, as well as sports injuries. To minimize those risks, we encourage early orthodontic treatment.
Does the type of mouthguard used make a difference?
Some of the mouthguards that are available commercially are bulkier, which can make it harder to breathe. A well-fitted mouthguard is a smaller device. It’s much more comfortable, so it’s more likely that it will be worn properly.
What should parents do when a mouth injury does occur?
First, it’s important to ensure that there isn’t a more serious injury. Seek medical attention to find out if there is a possible concussion, neck or spinal cord injury, or airway or bleeding issues.
If a tooth has been knocked out and you can find it, put the tooth back firmly into the socket to the best of your ability. Have the child bite on something soft, such as a piece of gauze or tissue, and then get to a dentist as fast as you can. If you can’t reinsert the tooth, then put it in milk or water (to keep it wet) and see a dentist right away. When there is a chip or a break, it’s not quite as critical, but you still want to get to a dentist as quickly as possible. The sooner you can get that injury tended to, the less risk there is of infection or further damage.
Are there any other measures we should take to safeguard our own and our children’s oral health?
The key to oral health is good preventive care. To maintain oral health for a lifetime, brush teeth thoroughly twice a day, floss teeth daily, eat a balanced and nutritious diet, and visit your dentist on a regular basis.
A well-fitted custom mouthguard is smaller and much more comfortable than commercial options such as the mouthguard pictured here, making it more likely that it will be worn properly.
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