Playing sports is great exercise and has a number of health benefits that make it an excellent hobby, however contact sports and ball sports also pose safety risks and can cause damage to your mouth and teeth if appropriate precautions are not taken.
Some popular sports that can result in dental injury are field hockey, boxing, cricket, rugby, polo and MMA. It is important that during any practice or sports match, you ensure that you understand the danger of injury and are properly equipped with any products that can provide protection to your teeth and jaw.
Types of dental sports injuries
Dentists see a number of common dental injuries and traumas resulting from a sports impact, these include:
When the enamel from your tooth is chipped, this can cause sensitivity and discomfort on your tongue, however it is often not a dental emergency. Your dentist will often be able to repair any damage with a tooth coloured composite resin.
A larger break to the tooth can fracture both the enamel and the dentine underneath. When dentine becomes exposed, the tooth can become more sensitive to touch, temperature and air. The front teeth are more prone to fracture on impact, due to their thinner edges and prominent position at the front of the mouth. When a tooth fracture is sustained, you should try to save any missing parts of the tooth and see your dentist as soon as possible.
When impact forces your tooth downwards in the lower jaw, or upwards in the upper jaw into the socket, this is called tooth intrusion. The tooth will visibly appear smaller due to less of the crown being exposed above the gum line, and this is dangerous as it can also fracture the jaw bone and cause additional injury.
This occurs when instead of forcing the tooth downwards, a strong impact loosens the tooth and dislodges it from its fitted position in the socket. When this happens, the periodontal ligament is torn which is not only painful but means that the ligament cannot function properly to anchor the tooth in its natural position.
Should the force of the impact be so great that the periodontal ligament is lacerated completely, then the tooth can be knocked out of the mouth entirely. This laceration can result in significant pain and bleeding from the gum. With this type of injury, the jaw can also be fractured as a result of the strong impact, which causes additional problems, pain and discomfort.
Temporomandibular joint dislocation
Otherwise known as a dislocated jaw, this type of injury occurs when the jaw opens too wide or is forced into an unnatural position and the joint becomes stuck and unable to fit back into the socket. Dislocation can sometimes be treated relatively easily and fixed by a dentist or medical professional, however patients may sometimes need anaesthesia and a relaxant for the surrounding muscles. Once fixed, the area may be tender for some time and soft foods are recommended to reduce stress on the joint.
With any of the above dental injuries, you should see your dentist as soon as possible, requesting an emergency appointment if you are in considerable pain.
How to protect your teeth while playing sport
Face guards and mouth guards are the most effective way to protect yourself from injury when playing any type of contact or ball sport. Some types of sports helmet such as cricket and American football include face guards for added protection, however it is still advisable to wear a mouth guard for maximum protection.
Mouth guards are the best form of protection recommended by dentists, as they fit over your teeth for protection and cushion them against the impact that might be received during a contact sport, such as a fall or a shoulder, foot or ball to the face. As well as protecting the teeth, well-fitted mouth guards are also said to help prevent concussion, as they create more space in the temporomandibular joint, between the lower jaw and the base of the skull, when worn. This means that on sudden impact, the jaw has more room to move within the joint before the force is transferred to the skull, which can potentially cause a head injury.
Types of mouth guards
Mouth guards fit over your teeth and cushion the impact that might be received from contact sport, such as a fall or being hit by a ball. The best form of protection comes from a custom-fitted, high-quality mouth guard. You can obtain one of these by visiting your dentist, who will be able to take a full, accurate impression of both your top and lower jaw to have the custom guard created and moulded for your mouth.
You can also request varying levels of mouth guard strength, with medium strength appropriate for sports such as rugby, field hockey and cricket, whereas high strength mouth guards offer extra protection for high-contact sports such as boxing and MMA.
It is possible to purchase cheaper mouth guards over the counter at a number of supermarkets, however these offer limited protection as they are not sized or created specifically for each jaw. The options for over the counter mouth guards include a one-size-fits-all solution, and what is known as a ‘boil and bite’ mouth guard, where the guard is heated and then moulded to the shape of your mouth. Our experience of these is that they are very unsatisfactory and often fall out of the mouth when inserted.
Understanding the risks that playing sport can have to your teeth is the first step to understanding how to protect yourself as much as possible. Sports mouth guards and face guards can offer excellent protection and comfort to help you play sports safely and sensibly.
If you are interested in having a custom sports mouth guard created, your dentist will be able to provide tailored advice specific to your requirements. Our expert team at Vitality are always on hand to answer any queries, so why not contact us for an appointment today and discuss the options for a custom mouth guard.