The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an average of 30 million children and adolescence participate in sports annually. Of these players, the CDC estimates approximately 600,000 youths will go to the emergency room with dental related injuries involving children as young as 5 years old. In attempt to promote awareness of facial injury prevention, five organizations have sponsored April as being the National Facial Protection Month. These organizations’ 2014 message to the public is “to remind young athletes to play it safe by wearing a mouth guard during recreational and organized sports this spring.” The nation’s top five organizations leading this cause are the American Dental Association (ADA), American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the Academy for Sports Dentistry.

According to research from University of Rochester Medical Center, ”sports and recreational activities contribute to approximately 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children and adolescents. Although death from a sport injury is rare, the leading cause of death from a sports-related injury is a brain injury.” The majority of these injuries are a result of bicycling, skateboarding, or skating incidents. Contact sports such as football, hockey, and basketball are also a common source of oral injury; however, other sports such as gymnastics and volleyball pose a threat as well. Common head and neck injuries can include concussions, fractured teeth, oral lacerations, jaw joint sprains, and neck injuries.

Prevention is a large aspect of oral health. Oral health prevention includes the prevention of injury to the head, mouth, teeth, neck, and jaws. The campaign announced the following five tips to help prevent head, neck, and facial injury:

1. Wear a mouth guard when playing contact sports. Treating oral injury can become very costly to the parent. The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (NYSSF) estimates the total cost for tooth replacement after sports injury can range from $5,000 to $20,000 over a lifetime. The NYSSF reports that athletes are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth without a mouth guard. Unfortunately, a 2009 survey by the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) found that 67 percent of parents stated their children do not wear a mouth guard during organized sports. Mouth guards function as a shock absorber to buffer the impact of a blow or trauma to the head. According to the CDC, this small appliance, if worn during sports, may prevent 200,000 oral injuries each year, avoid the risk of concussion by 50 percent, and prevent injury to teeth by 60 percent.

2. Wear a helmet. Helmets are designed to cushion and absorb the energy of an impact to the head. The Insurance Institute of Highway Loss for Highway Safety Data Institute (IIHS) reported that 91 percent of bicyclist killed in 2009 were not wearing a helmet. The AAOMS states the helmet should “meet or exceed safety standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). You may need to try on several sizes and models to find a helmet that fits your head correctly and securely.”

3. Wear protective eye wear. A 2011 Seattle Times column reported, “More than 600,000 Americans will suffer an eye injury while playing a sport this year, says the National Eye Institute. Of these, about 42,000 will be serious enough to require treatment in a hospital emergency room.” The National Society to Prevent Blindness claims that 40 percent of these eye injuries are under the age of 14. The National Association of Opthalmologists and Optometrists state 90 percent of these injuries could be prevented by protective eye wear.

4. Wear a face shield. A 2002 article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that hockey “players who wore half face shields missed significantly more practices and games per concussion (2.4 times) than players who wore full face shields.” Face shield worn can protect players faces from flying hockey pucks, basketball, and racquetballs.

5. Mandatory gear for all sports.

• Dr. Rashmi (Rush) Bhatnagar, DMD, MPH, can be contacted at (480) 598-5900 or visit

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