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Sports Safety: Avoiding Tooth and Mouth Injuries

A few years ago, a dental newsletter published what seemed like an unusual story. A boy snagged his teeth on a basketball net while doing a slam-dunk.

A freakish accident? Not quite. After the article appeared, nearly 40 dentists wrote in with their own stories. They all told of would-be Michael Jordans who sacrificed their front teeth in pursuit of the perfect dunk.

In older children and adults, sports injuries are common. Dentists estimate that between 13% and 39% of dental injuries occur while playing sports.

About 80% of all dental injuries affect at least one of the front teeth. Damage to the tongue or cheek is common, too.

Basic Protection

Even if a tooth has been knocked out, it often can be saved if you get to a dentist quickly enough. Minor chips and cracks can be repaired. Dentists use tooth-colored materials that are nearly as strong as the original tooth. However, even "minor" injuries can cause serious and costly damage. If you enjoy sports or other high-risk activities, protect yourself. The use of mouth guards among football players, for example, is believed to prevent about 200,000 mouth injuries a year.

Depending on the sport, two types of protection are available:

  • Helmets — A helmet is a must for activities that involve speed or impact. These include football, hockey, skating and bike riding. The helmet should fit correctly. It should also be appropriate for the sport you are playing.

  • Mouth guards — Wearing a mouth guard is one of the best ways to prevent injury to your teeth, tongue and lips. A custom-fit mouth guard from your dentist is recommended. This type of mouth guard usually fits better than a ready-made one (found in sporting-goods stores). That means it may protect your teeth better.

If a custom-fit mouth guard isn't an option, try a "boil-and-bite" mouth guard. You can buy one in a sporting-goods store. You place the mouth guard in boiling water. Once the plastic is soft (but not too hot), you bite down on the mouth guard and mold the softened plastic around your teeth. If the mouth guard doesn't fit comfortably the first time, you can reheat it and do it again.

©2002-2013 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

09/25/2013

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