“Hey, can I get my team’s logo?” “I want the Greek flag.” The excitement and enthusiasm filled the room as the twins were thinking about their new equipment. My 9-year-old boys, Markos and Dimitrios are on a travel baseball team and everything is coordinated. Caps, jerseys, helmets, practice tee shirts; even their equipment backpacks. Mouth guards are mandatory in the league and their first ones were store bought, boil and bite. They were not well adapted on the teeth and gums, they made them gag and the only way to keep them in was to constantly bite on them. After their game or practice, their bite was off for several minutes as their teeth did not come together properly. Their jaw muscles were sore as well because they were constantly clenching.
The obvious benefit to using an athletic mouth guard is to prevent mouth injuries, jaw injuries and trauma to teeth and gums. Kids who play sports without mouth guards can suffer fractures of their teeth, jaws or have teeth knocked out completely. A custom-made mouth guard has a uniform thickness, fits well and stays in the mouth very well without straining the jaw joints or muscles. It also is fabricated with multiple layers of material providing superior protection. Athletes can talk with better with them compared to store bought guards. When trying to customize a boil and bite guard, we don’t bite down evenly and one area is always thinner than the other. The thinner part will not provide adequate protection and the cusps of those teeth are more prone to fracturing.
One thing that really fascinates me is that there is a connection between concussions and mouth injuries. When a player takes a blow to the lower jaw, the impact goes from the lower teeth to the upper teeth which are embedded in the skull. That impact gets transferred to the brain which gets rattled and can get bruised. That, essentially, is what a concussion is. A severe impact could lead to serious traumatic brain injuries with internal bleeding and can be fatal. A research study from the Academy of General Dentistry in 2014 revealed that players wearing store bought mouth guards are more than twice likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries compared to players wearing custom made mouth guards. The researchers explained that one of the factors was the uniformity and thickness of these products. They identified that the average thickness of a custom-made guard was 3.6 millimeters while a stock guard was 1.5
It is especially important that young players have maximum protection against these horrible injuries. Some disadvantages of custom appliances are that they take two visits to be fabricated and they are more expensive. Typically, impressions are taken on the first visit, then a week later the appliance is delivered and adjusted if necessary. As the child grows and develops, these appliances will have to be remade. Children who are under orthodontic care are more at risk because metal braces and wires can contribute to lacerations of the lips, cheeks, gums and tongue. The benefits of preventing injuries far outweigh the devastation, cost and extensive treatments associated with dental or medical injuries which are more probable to occur with store bought guards.
With literally hundreds of different styles, colors and designs, the possibilities of decorating and customizing these important pieces of protective equipment are endless. That motivates the players to wear them and when they do, they decrease the risks and increase the fun. So, play hard, play safe, and PLAY BALL!