Health

Mouthguards 'should be the norm in sport'

Rugby players wearing mouthguards Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Rugby players are at high risk of dental injuries

Sporting injuries are a leading cause of adults losing teeth. But Dr Lyndon Meehan, an NHS dentist who also works for the charity Dental Trauma UK, argues people playing sport should wear mouthguards to protect their teeth.

We all take our teeth for granted. Often, it is only when we are faced with the reality of losing one, or several, that we realise just how important they are.

Sadly, for many, this realisation comes too late.

I am an NHS dentist with a special interest in sports dentistry and dental trauma. I split my time between hospitals in Wales (Morriston) and London (King's College Hospital).

I provide pitch side dental trauma treatment on match days to the Welsh Rugby Union, Welsh Football Association and Cardiff City FC.

I was also fortunate enough to be a dentist in the athletes village during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But it is a sad fact that too many people playing sports - at all levels - are losing teeth unnecessarily.

In many cases, this is because they don't use a mouthguard - or, worst still, are wearing one that doesn't fit properly.

'Frustrating'

People playing sport are, predictably, at a much higher risk of damaging their teeth. A study of 1,000 athletes in Brazil found 28% had suffered dental trauma.

But whilst 52% of them knew about mouthguards, only 15% actually used one.

At King's, we run a specialist dental trauma clinic, so I regularly see the physical and psychological damage caused by dental trauma and tooth loss.

As a result, I find it frustrating that people playing sport don't take simple steps to protect their teeth.

One professional rugby player I treated had stopped wearing his mouthguard because he found it too big and bulky.

Predictably, he suffered a blow to his face in the first game of the season, and fractured his two top front teeth at the root.

We did our best to save them, but he now faces a life-time of management and dental treatment - and all because he wasn't wearing a mouthguard.

Sport is increasingly physical. As you'd expect, rugby shows high levels of dental trauma, but so does basketball (36%), and martial arts sports (32%).

Perhaps surprisingly, hockey has one of the lowest incidence (11.5%) - but this is almost certainly due to a high proportion of players wearing mouthguards, plus heightened awareness of the potential for dental injuries.

'Dirt cheap'

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Dentists can custom-make mouthguards for adults and children

There are two types of mouthguards - the off the shelf kind, including the 'boil and bite' type - or one which is custom-made and fitted by a dental professional.

My advice would always be to spend a bit more money, and get one properly fitted to your mouth.

It costs approximately £40-£50, and is something your high street dentist can organise for you or your child.

This sounds like a lot of money but, compared to a lifetime of expensive dental work or even early tooth loss, it's dirt cheap.

The sooner kids start wearing mouthguards, and seeing them as the norm, the better.

'No guard, no play'

Our charity Dental Trauma UK is campaigning to improve the prevention, education and appropriate management of traumatic injuries to teeth, many of which occur whilst playing sport.

Of course, if I had my way, it would be compulsory for everyone playing sport to wear a mouthguard - I'm a dentist, so you'd expect nothing less!

Take New Zealand rugby, which saw a dramatic reduction in dental injuries after referees were given the power to insist on compulsory mouthguards being worn at all ages.

One day, I hope it will be a case of 'no guard, no play', especially with schools sports.

But, until that day, I would urge everyone - young and old - who plays sport to get a mouthguard made by their dentist. It could save you a lot of money and heartache in the future.

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