For some professional athletes, such as hockey players, losing a tooth during a game is both an expected accident and rite of passage. For the average hobbyist, however, it isn't so much an honor as it is an expensive nightmare. The cost of replacing a lost tooth is about 20 times more than the cost of a custom-fitted mouth guard.
Fortunately, learning how to protect your teeth when playing a sport or participating in close-contact recreational activities isn't as difficult as the frequency of these incidents suggests. In fact, the right gear has kept more than 200,000 injuries from occurring annually.
Protecting Your Teeth
1. Mouth Guards
Two pieces of equipment can go a long way toward protecting your teeth when playing a contact sport as physical as football, soccer or hockey. The first is a mouth guard – a must when you play any type of sport that involves bats, balls, sticks or person-to-person contact. You can find relatively inexpensive mouth guards for sale over the counter, most of which are designed to be one size fits all. Some of these are meant to be soaked in boiling water, then sculpted to fit your oral cavity in particular. Although both options can be easy on your wallet, however, generic or "boil-and-bite" mouth guards don't offer the best fit and can be uncomfortable. For this reason, a personal but more expensive option is to have your dentist create a custom mouth guard that starts with a basic dental visit.
The second item is a helmet, particularly one with a face guard. Sturdy headwear gives you an extra layer of protection in sports such as football or hockey – which usually require this item. Note that it's a good idea to choose the right helmet for the sport you are playing so that it will provide the appropriate amount of protection. A helmet designed for cyclists, the LA Times once explained, isn't a good option when you're about to play football. By the same token, a football helmet might be too heavy when playing baseball.
Keep in mind you should know how to protect your teeth, mouth and head even when participating in solo sports such as bicycling, skiing and skating as well. Whereas there is no risk of you being hit in the tooth with a ball, bat or other person's arm when on a bike or pair of skis, you still face the potential of falling and coming in contact with hard ground. You can also run into something, such as a tree or parked car, leading to injury from low visibility on a narrow trail or sidewalk.
Always wear a helmet to protect your head when cycling, skating or skiing. Remember to choose the right kind for the sport for optimal protection. A mouth guard is also a good idea, as a helmet alone won't shield your teeth.
You face little risk breaking a tooth while swimming – barring a bump to your mouth against a hard wall – but you still want to protect your mouth over long periods of pool time. One of the best ways to do this if you're an avid swimmer is to make sure the pool you swim in is well maintained. If the pH of your swimming pool is too low (meaning it's too acidic), according to Delta Dental, you're at a higher risk for "swimmers' calculus" – which results from excessive enamel erosion, making your teeth extra sensitive and appear more yellow. With this in mind, consider toothpaste to strengthen enamel such as Colgate® Enamel Health™ Sensitivity Relief to repair any tooth enamel damage you may already have.
Along with maintaining your pool and keeping its chlorine levels at the recommended level, you can further protect your teeth by keeping your mouth closed when you swim, so that the chlorinated water doesn't come into contact with them as often.
Your dentist is your best resource for additional questions regarding how to protect your teeth during a given sport. He or she can ultimately help you choose the helmet that's most appropriate and create a custom mouth guard to fit your teeth. Wearing a mouth guard for each day of practice might be a pain, but it's a lot more comfortable than dealing with the dental injury that can follow.