With the start of football season just around the corner, parents are shopping for the best safety equipment to ensure that their children are as protected and comfortable as possible. One of the most important tasks of the offseason is selecting the right mouth guard to protect a player’s teeth, mouth and jaw.

The American Dental Association estimates the use of mouth guards by student athletes has prevented an average of 200,000 injuries per year in high school and college football alone. When it comes to protecting your mouth, a mouth guard is an essential piece of athletic gear that should be part of your standard equipment from an early age. The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety reports that an athlete is 60 times more likely to sustain damage to the teeth when not wearing a protective mouth guard. While collision and contact sports, such as football and hockey, are higher-risk sports for the mouth, you can experience a dental injury in non-contact activities too, such as gymnastics and skating.

Mouth guards come in a variety of brands and sizes, the best mouth guard is one that has been custom made for your mouth by your dentist. However, if you can’t afford a custom-fitted mouth guard, you should still wear a stock mouth guard or a boil-and-bite mouth guard from the drugstore. Their counterpart, stock mouth guards, can be found at sporting good stores, but since they are not customized for individual shape and size, they require a constant bite in order to keep them in place. This disrupts talking and breathing for most users. No matter which type of mouth guard you choose, it should be resilient, tear-resistant and comfortable.

Because the mouth, like other parts of the body, experiences growth spurts, it’s important that a dentist evaluates a child or adolescent’s mouth before choosing a mouth guard. Additionally, different sports involve different levels of risk and potential injury; your dentist also can help customize a mouth guard based on your or your child’s specific activity.

If you wear braces or another fixed dental appliance on your lower jaw, your dentist may suggest a mouth protector for these teeth as well. With braces, the big thing is the protection of the lips. Braces are generally pretty sharp, and if you take a blow directly in the mouth, then you can run into some problems.

Mouth guards should ideally be replaced after each season because they can wear down over time, making them less effective. Replacement is especially important for adolescents because their mouths continue to grow and teeth continue to develop into adulthood. Many athletes who play several sports have new mouth guards made when they go for their six-month dental checkup.

Dental injuries are the most frequently occurring orofacial injuries in sports activities. Further, the most serious and life-threatening consequence of orofacial trauma is concussion. Not only do mouth guards protect teeth, but they also protect the head from blows to the jaw that can result in concussions and unconsciousness.

I have always been conscience of making sure our youth players are well protected. So as a courtesy to this year’s Mountain Pointe Pride football team, my Dental by Design team and I decided to protect our players at any cost. We created a special day where we donated over 60 guards to protect our young football talent. We manufactured customized guards with four layers of protection by taking individual impressions of their mouth. It was a great experience working with such talented youth. And we wish them all the best for the year to come... Go Pride!

• Dr Rahul Kode is with Dental by Design Ahwatukee, at 4855 E. Warner Road, Suite B9. For more information, call (480) 753-9063.

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