Let the games begin! As many students are training for football, baseball, hockey, soccer and other sports, this is also the time of year for sports-related injuries. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sports-related dental injuries send approximately 600,000 youths to the emergency room each year.

Prevention is a large aspect of oral health. Oral health prevention includes the preventions of injury to the mouth, teeth, neck and jaws. Contact sports such as football, hockey and basketball are common sources 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.

Treating oral injury can become very costly to the parent. The National Youth Sports Foundation for Safety estimates the total cost for tooth replacement after sports injury can range from $5,000 to $20,000 over a lifetime.

A mouth guard is a simple, rubber-type appliance worn typically over the upper teeth. 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.

Mouth guards are available in these variations: stock mouth guards; mouth-formed, "boil-and-bite" mouth guards and custom mouth guards fabricated by a dentist. The stock mouth guards are inexpensive, ready to wear, and can be found at most drug sporting goods stores. Athletic stores also supply the boil-and-bite mouth guards, which are formed by softening the guard in warm water and adapting it to one's teeth. The boil-and-bite creates a higher level of protection due to its more formed characteristic. The custom, dentist fabricated mouth guard conforms closely to the teeth providing the highest protection. The American Dental Association guidelines for mouth guards are: the appliance should be resilient, tear-resistant, properly fit, feel comfortable, cleansable and should not restrict speech or breathing.

Regardless of the type of mouth guard chosen, the appliance will reduce a child's risk of traumatic injury. A mouth guard is an essential that no athlete should be without

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

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