Most youth athletes are ecstatic over losing their first tooth. After all, what is cooler than being able to amaze your teammates (and gross out your little sister) than by a swiveling tooth around that is barely connected to the rest of your head? Seeing 8 and 9 year olds missing their two front teeth is a familiar site is youth sports but what if your child lost a baby tooth that wasn’t quite ready to go just yet? Even worse, what if something happens to one of their brand new adult teeth? According to the Massachusetts Dental Society, more than 5 million teeth are knocked out each year through sports injury, accident, or play! That’s a lot of extra trips for the tooth fairy. However, mouthguards have been shown to dramatically reduce the amount of lost teeth (and other oral injuries) to youth athletes, stopping approximately 200,000 oral-facial injuries each year!
Just like you wouldn’t send your Little Leaguer up to bat without a helmet on (no matter how slow the pitch coming in is), a mouthguard should be part of a youth athlete’s normal “uniform” including other protective gear like helmets, shoulder pads, shin guards, face masks, and so forth, especially if they are in a full contact sport like football, hockey or lacrosse. But even other sports like soccer and basketball can knock teeth out if your child is in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are three types of mouth guards available to youth athletes:
1. Custom-Made Mouthguards
Custom-made mouthguards are made by a dental lab from a impression of your child’s mouth taken by your pediatric dentist. They are designed to fit your child’s mouth exactly so they can be a lot more expensive than other types of mouthguards but you’re guaranteed the right fit and that they will be comfortable for your youth athlete. Keep in mind that you child’s mouth might change from season to season as they lose baby teeth, gain adult teeth or maybe even get braces so you might have to invest in a new custom-made mouthguard fairly regularly.
2. Boil and Bite Mouthguards
Boil and bite mouthguards start off as just a rounded piece of plastic. You simply have to heat it up in some hot water (that’s the boil part) give it a moment to cool down and then have your child clamp down (the bite part). The pressure from their teeth and tongue, as well as you molding the plastic around their gums so it fits properly, gives you a custom fit without the price of going to the dentist. However, since it’s not professionally made it might not fit as well as the actual custom-made mouthguard. You’ll also have to be careful there are no sharp edges when it hardens that might irritate your youth athlete’s mouth. The nice thing about boil and bite mouthguards is that you can reheat and reshape them as necessary.
3. Stock Mouthguards
You can get a stock mouthguard at just about any local sporting goods store. They usually come in several pre-determined shapes and sizes but can’t really be adjusted so finding the “perfect” fit is a usually more complicated. A stock mouthguard might be a good first investment if you’re not sure your child will continue playing sports after one or two seasons. This way you still protect your youth athlete’s mouth but aren’t adding one more cost to an already expensive season.