Dr. Danette McNew and fourth-year dental student, Steven Shaw, use the mouthguard vacuum former in the practical lab.

Dr. Danette McNew and fourth-year dental student, Steven Shaw, use the mouthguard vacuum former in the practical lab.

As youth participation in sports continues to increase — an estimated 20 to 25 million will play competitive sports this year — the incidence of dental injuries also increases. According to Dr. Danette McNew, clinical assistant professor in general dentistry at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, these injuries can easily be prevented with a simple piece of protective gear — a mouthguard.

However, even in professional-level sports today, only three — hockey, boxing and lacrosse — require athletes to wear mouthguards.

As a fellow of the Academy for Sports Dentistry and a member of its board of directors, McNew spends part of each day educating patients at her Rockwall, Texas, general dentistry practice on the value of mouthguard use for all sports, whether as part of a community team, youth league or recreational pursuit.

“Anything that has an athlete impacting something at high speeds, whether it’s another athlete or a piece of equipment — think lacrosse, hockey, football, basketball, boxing, karate and taekwondo — results in a potential hazard for the teeth,” McNew says.

Bicycling and waterskiing falls can cause traumatic dental injury with teeth being knocked out. Even ballroom dancing within a mix of people who might not see where they’re going can produce a collision that causes mouth trauma.

Mouthguards come in three types, explains McNew. There is an over-the-counter variety, which offers very minimal protection and is not very comfortable to wear. The next is a boil-and-bite mouthguard that is heated to allow it to fit around the user’s teeth. McNew says this type can work for a while, but when people form the mouthguards themselves they may not get the right fit. Then there’s the custom mouthguards, which are made by a dentist who takes an impression of the athlete’s teeth and then forms the mouthguards over the model or cast.

Custom mouthguards can be adapted to different sports because each calls for different protection.

“In football, linebackers clench down on their teeth because they are prepping to take blows, so you need thickness in the posterior chewing region,” McNew says. “With basketball, it needs to be thicker in the front because those athletes are taking elbows to the face. You can adapt and thicken the material to the particular sport. That’s why custom is better than over-the-counter or boil-and-bite.”

McNew says it is her job to inform patients and make parents aware they need this protection for their kids, from young athletes just goofing around in the driveway to weight lifters clenching their teeth. It helps decrease dental injuries and excessive wear on the teeth.

“I try to find out from my patients what they do in their spare time, whether it’s mountain climbing, water rafting, etc. I always suggest protection for my patients, regardless of age. Mouthguards should be an essential component of our patients’ lives,” McNew says.

— Jennifer Fuentes

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