Mouth guards, also known as sports guards or athletic mouth protectors, are crucial pieces of equipment for any child participating in potentially injurious recreational or sporting activities. Fitting snugly over the upper teeth, mouth guards protect the entire oral region from traumatic injury, preserving both the esthetic appearance and the health of the smile. In addition, mouth guards are sometimes used to prevent tooth damage in children who grind (brux) their teeth at night.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) in particular, advocates for the use of dental mouth guards during any sporting or recreational activity. Most store-bought mouth guards cost fewer than ten dollars, making them a perfect investment for every parent.
How can mouth guards protect my child?
The majority of sporting organizations now require participants to routinely wear mouth guards. Though mouth guards are primarily designed to protect the teeth, they can also vastly reduce the degree of force transmitted from a trauma impact point (jaw) to the central nervous system (base of the brain). In this way, mouth guards help minimize the risk of traumatic brain injury, which is especially important for younger children.
Mouth guards also reduce the prevalence of the following injuries:
- Cheek lesions
- Gum and soft tissue injuries
- Jawbone fractures
- Lip lesions
- Neck injuries
- Tongue lesions
- Tooth fractures
What type of mouth guard should I purchase for my child?
Though there are literally thousands of mouth guard brands, most brands fall into three major categories: stock mouth guards, boil and bite mouth guards, and customized mouth guards.
Some points to consider when choosing a mouth guard include:
- How much money is available to spend?
- How often does the child play sports?
- What kind of sport does the child play? (Basketball and baseball tend to cause the most oral injuries).
In light of these points, here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of mouth guard:
Stock mouth guards – These mouth guards can be bought directly off the shelf and immediately fitted into the child’s mouth. The fit is universal (one-size-fits-all), meaning that that the mouth guard doesn’t adjust. Stock mouth guards are very cheap, easy to fit, and quick to locate at sporting goods stores. Pediatric dentists favor this type of mouth guard least, as it provides minimal protection, obstructs proper breathing and speaking, and tends to be uncomfortable.
Boil and bite mouth guards – These mouth guards are usually made from thermoplastic and are easily located at most sporting goods stores. First, the thermoplastic must be immersed in hot water to make it pliable, and then it must be pressed on the child’s teeth to create a custom mold. Boil and bite mouth guards are slightly more expensive than stock mouth guards, but tend to offer more protection, feel more comfortable in the mouth, and allow for easy speech production and breathing.
Customized mouth guards – These mouth guards offer the greatest degree of protection, and are custom-made by the dentist. First, the dentist makes an impression of the child’s teeth using special material, and then the mouth guard is constructed over the mold. Customized mouth guards are more expensive and take longer to fit, but are more comfortable, orthodontically correct, and fully approved by the dentist.
If you have questions or concerns about choosing a mouth guard for your child, please contact our office.
How can I prevent cavities at home?
Biannual visits with the pediatric dentist are only part of the battle against cavities. Here are some helpful guidelines for cavity prevention:
- Analyze the diet – Too many sugary or starchy snacks can expedite cavity formation. Replace sugary snacks like candy with natural foods where possible, and similarly, replace soda with water.
- Cut the snacks – Snacking too frequently can unnecessarily expose teeth to sugars. Save the sugar and starch for mealtimes, when the child is producing more saliva, and drinking water. Make sure they consume enough water to cleanse the teeth.
- Lose the sippy cup – Sippy cups are thought to cause “baby bottle tooth decay” when they are used beyond the intended age (approximately twelve months). The small amount of liquid emitted with each sip causes sugary liquid to continually swill around the teeth.
- Avoid stickiness – Sticky foods (like toffee) form plaque quickly and are extremely difficult to pry off the teeth. Avoid them when possible.
- Rinse the pacifier – Oral bacteria can be transmitted from mother or father to baby. Rinse a dirty pacifier with running water as opposed to sucking on it to avoid contaminating the baby’s mouth.
- Drinks at bedtime – Sending a child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup is bad news. The milk, formula, juice, or sweetened water basically sits on the teeth all night – attacking enamel and maximizing the risk of cavities. Ensure the child has a last drink before bedtime, and then brush the teeth.
- Don’t sweeten the pacifier – Parents sometimes dip pacifiers in honey to calm a cranky child. Do not be tempted to do this. Use a blanket, toy, or hug to calm the child instead.
- Brush and floss – Parents should brush and floss their child’s teeth twice each day until the child reaches the age of seven years old. Before this time, children struggle to brush every area of the mouth effectively.
- Check on fluoride –When used correctly, fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel and help stave off cavities. Too much or too little fluoride can actually harm the teeth, so ask the pediatric dentist for a fluoride assessment.
- Keep to appointments – The child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his or her first birthday, as per the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines. Keep to a regular appointment schedule to create healthy smiles!
If you have questions or concerns about cavity prevention, please contact our office.
Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking
Children who continue to suck thumbs or pacifiers after the age of five are at high-risk for developing dental complications.