Tips for Protecting Your Child from Mouth Injuries During Sports Season

22 Aug


By Steven D. Spitz, D.M.D.

It’s that time of year again. Kids are headed back to school and for many, looking forward to joining a competitive school sports team or after-school fall league. With the multitude of options available based on student’s interests – cheerleading, football, gymnastics, basketball, hockey, and more – it’s no surprise that thousands of schoolchildren play at least one organized sport.

It is also the time of year where our offices see many injuries. There are several studies that link sporting activities to one-third of all dental injuries.Children between the ages of 7 and 11 years are most susceptible to sports-related oral injuries. The most common injuries are teeth that have been chipped or knocked out, broken or fractured jaw and joints, and cuts to the mouth and gums.

Prevention is the best defense against any mouth injuries and the following are a few tips that will help you keep your child safe this sports season.

Which Youth Sports Have the Highest Rates of Oral Injuries?

The high impact and extreme contact of sports such as hockey and football leave many to believe that these are the most dangerous sports when it comes to mouth injuries. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, nearly three times as many mouth injuries occur on the basketball court as on the football field, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Dentistry.

Safety precautions, or lack thereof, in today’s youth sports have created this discrepancy. Starting in the 1960s, regulations were put in place requiring the use of mouth guards in youth and high school sports, specifically football, lacrosse and ice hockey. Due to this mandatory requirement, these sports have seen a steady decline in the number of dental and jaw injuries. Not surprisingly, many other sports, especially non-‘contact’ sports, do not have such strict guidelines, and therefore unfortunately tend to have higher incidences of mouth injuries. Sports such as basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, field hockey, and gymnastics report the highest rates. Studies have also found that oral and facial injuries to female athletes exceed those in males.

The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety contends that an athlete is 60 times more likely to sustain damage to the teeth when not wearing a protective mouth guard. It’s estimated that mouthguards prevent more than 200,000 injuries each year, including concussions.

What I have found in my own practice – and the research confirms it – is that most of these injuries to the mouth, face and jaw could have been avoided with easy prevention, such as a mouth guard.

What Kind of Mouth Guard Is Right for My Child?

With the many types of mouth guards available it can be overwhelming to understand which one is right for your child. There are three main kinds of mouth guards: ready-made, over-the-counter ‘boil and bite’, and custom-made versions created by a dental professional. The decision really comes down to cost and comfort. The custom-made versions are typically the most comfortable and offer the optimum level of protection as they are specifically fit to the individual’s teeth.

Custom mouth guards are also becoming known as performance enhancers, where they open up the player’s bite, keeping them from clenching. This has many benefits, allowing the player to be at his or her best. Custom mouth guards can be made distinctively for full, limited, and non-contact sports and in a variety of colors – including your child’s team colors. Talk to your dentist about what would be best for you and your child.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends mouth guards that are comfortable, resistant to tearing, and resilient. To avoid infection or cuts, it’s important to clean mouth guards daily and replace when they start to develop sharp or jagged edges.

As a parent, you can insist on your child wearing a mouth guard for protection, even if the league does not have a mandatory regulation. In a fast-paced game, it is much easier to protect teeth than restore them.

What Happens if My Child Is Injured?

First, don’t panic. No matter how many precautions we take, injuries can happen. Injuries to the head and mouth region tend to show large amounts of blood. Generally, they look worse than they are. In any case, stay calm, as your reactions will have a direct impact on how your child responds to the situation.

Quick action is imperative. Despite their pleas, do not let your athlete wait until the end of the game to seek treatment for a dental injury. Rapid care will make the difference in your child’s treatment and in saving his or her tooth. If possible, contact your dentist and see him or her for care. If that is not possible, go to the nearest emergency room.

A few common injuries include:

Cuts: Braces, while great for straightening teeth, are not great when playing contact sports. Children with braces need to take special precautions. Cuts to gums, tongue, and mouth can be mild to severe when a ball or player knocks a child with braces. A mouth guard will protect the teeth, braces and the gums.

Loose Tooth: If a tooth is loose, hold the tooth back in position and have your child bite down softly to stop the tooth from moving around. Call your family dentist or head to the emergency room to address the situation.

Lost Tooth: If a tooth is knocked out, gently rinse the tooth and place it under the tongue or, if possible, in milk. Leaving the tooth exposed can dry it out. Get to your dentist or emergency room as soon as possible. If for some reason the tooth cannot be reattached, dental implants offer a long-term alternative replacement.

Fractured or Broken Jaw: Long-term injuries to a child’s jaw or joints may result from this trauma. Especially at a young age, immediate care is mandatory. If there is any question as to the injury, go to the hospital immediately.

Any injury to the teeth, mouth or jaw can be scary for a child as well as the parent. Luckily, today’s dental materials and technology are superior to those of the past. Advancements in dentistry help reduce anxiety and pain in patients, especially in children. In the majority of the situations above, I tend to use the WaterLase iPlus dental laser as it reduces the need for anesthesia as well as recovery time for my patients. For the eager athlete and worried parent, the dental laser is an amazing option.

Prepare for the Season

Before the sports season begins, take time to be prepared in case of emergency. Have your child’s doctor and dentist information accessible. Talk with them ahead of time and ask what they would do in an emergency and how they would prefer you handle a situation, if one arises. Assure that your child’s coach knows how you would like things handled as well.

Playing sports can be a game-changing experience in a child’s life. It can build self-esteem, confidence and character. With proper tools and precautions, we, as parents, can feel comfortable letting our children participate in sports, while avoiding injuries at the same time.


Steven D. Spitz, D.M.D., is a prosthodontist (a specialist recognized by the ADA in replacing missing teeth and/or restoring damaged teeth) with a focus on dental implants and laser dentistry. He is owner and practitioner at Smileboston Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry, and is on record with the Academy of Sports Dentistry as the dentist to the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Spitz can be reached at either Smileboston location in Brookline or Pembroke, at


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