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Mouth guards can save teeth during summer fun and games

POSTED: May 31, 2009 10:15 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Dr. Lia Gallo of Gallo Dental Care in Gainesville demonstrates how a custom mouth guard is made. The American Dental Association recommends that a mouth guard be worn for activities such as basketball, soccer, skateboarding, surfing, water polo and gymnastics.

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As you prepare to send your child off to various summer sports camps with their pads and uniforms, you may want to throw in an additional piece of equipment — a mouth guard.

"Approximately 15 to 40 percent of dental injuries occur while playing sports. Approximately 80 percent of all dental injuries affect one or more of the front teeth and sometimes the soft tissue is also damaged as a result of biting the tongue or cheek," said Dr. Lia P. Gallo of Gallo Dental Care in Gainesville.

"A mouth guard is recommended for any recreational activity that poses a risk of injury to your child’s mouth."

According to Gallo, the American Dental Association recommends a mouth guard be worn for activities such as basketball, soccer, skateboarding, surfing, water polo and gymnastics.

"Many organized sports require (mouth guards), but if they are uncomfortable, children don’t always wear them," Gallo said. "Parents should make sure they do."

Gallo said there are three types of mouth guards: "ready made," "boil and bite" and, of course, the custom kind.

"Ready-made guards are inexpensive and come pre-formed, ready to wear. Unfortunately they often don’t fit very well. They can be bulky and can make breathing and talking difficult," Gallo said.

"Boil-and-bite guards can be bought at many sporting goods stores and may offer a better fit than (ready-made) mouth protectors," he said.

"They should be softened in water, then inserted and allowed to adapt to the shape of your child’s mouth. If you don’t follow the directions carefully you can wind up with a poor-fitting mouth protector," he said.

Although custom mouth guards can be more expensive, Gallo said they "can offer a better fit than anything you can buy off the shelf."

If a child doesn’t have all of their permanent teeth yet, Gallo said a boil-and-bite mouth protector should be
sufficient — as long as it fits properly, is easy to clean and doesn’t restrict breathing.

Mouth guard prices can range from around $10 to as much as $200, Gallo said. The ready-to-wear, U-shaped mouth guards made from rubber or vinyl can be bought without a prescription in many sporting good stores.

But they do have their drawbacks

"They do not evenly distribute the force of an impact due to the looseness of a non-custom fit," Gallo said. "I strongly suggest going to a dentist to have a custom-fitted mouth guard made to fit comfortably in your child’s mouth and offer better protection."

Although the cost of a custom guard may seem a bit high to some parents, Gallo warned the cost of repairing the damage caused by a mouth injury can be 15 to 30 times higher.

"A properly fitted mouth protector may be especially important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridge work," Gallo said. "A blow to the face could damage the brackets or other fixed orthodontic appliances. A mouth protector also provides a barrier between the braces and your child’s cheek or lips, limiting the risk of soft-tissue injuries."

Regular dental visits are always important, but they become even more important if your child is an athlete.

"Regular dental visits help your child stay cavity free. Teeth cleanings remove debris that build up on teeth, irritate the gums and cause decay," Gallo said. "During these visits the dentist provides an ongoing assessment of changes in your child’s oral health. For example, your child may need additional fluoride, dietary changes or sealants for ideal dental health.

If your child participates in sports, regular check-ups are vital," she added.

"Some minor tooth fractures caused by a whack can be unnoticed by your or your child. These fractures make rough areas on the tooth and therefore plaque can collect more easily than in a smooth, normal tooth surface."



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