Courts, fields, and diamonds are thawing out across the region, and soon they’ll be filled with young athletes gathered for team practices and pickup games. All sports involve some risk of injury, and those risks are heightened when young athletes, eager to play outdoors again after a long Western New York winter, neglect to wear the protective gear they need.
The American Dental Association estimates that two percent of child and adolescent athletes suffer a facial injury that requires medical attention. While a sprained ankle needs little more than rest to heal, injuries to the face and mouth can cause serious pain, require expensive treatment, and leave permanent damage. A mouth injury could knock out a tooth, cause a malocclusion (misaligned bite), and damage gums. Wearing a mouth guard, and taking other simple, inexpensive precautions, could save your or your child from painful, costly, and avoidable procedures.
April is National Facial Protection Month
National Facial Protection Month is an awareness-building effort from The Academy for Sports Dentistry (ASD), American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), and the American Dental Association (ADA). This April, these healthcare and pediatric professionals have shared five tips for young athletes and parents about staying safe through the spring sports season.
- Wear a mouth guard for any contact sport. Any blow to the face could knock out or loosen a tooth, damage gums, or cause bleeding. A mouth guard is an inexpensive and very effective protection. Experienced dental health professionals can make young athletes customized mouth guards, which are even better at protecting teeth while allowing normal speech and breathing.
- Wear a helmet. Helmets offer another layer of protection necessary for high-impact sports like football, lacrosse, hockey, and baseball. A heavy blow to the mouth could still cause damage even to an athlete wearing a mouth guard. You aren’t just worried about lost teeth, of course: you also need to protect against concussions and other head injuries.
- Wear protective eyewear. Some sports don’t typically call for helmets, but still pose the risk of serious facial injury. In racquetball and American Handball, for example, protective goggles are a must. Don’t risk the pain and temporary and permanent blindness that might result from a hit to the eyes: wear goggles.
- Use facial masks to protect an already injured face. You might remember Kobe Bryant’s famous clear plastic mask. Bryant and other basketball players have adopted these to protect already damaged faces from further injury. In sports where helmets are impractical – like basketball or soccer – a facial mask could allow you to keep playing in relative safety, even after a damaging blow to a nose or a cheekbone.
- If you’re a coach or an administrator, make protective gear mandatory for all sports. Children don’t have much perspective on their own vulnerability. Most haven’t lived long enough to see many other young athletes like themselves suffer serious, debilitating, or life-altering injuries. Many people used to believe children lacked the ability to estimate risk, but recent research shows that children are often more capable of understanding risk than adults. However, young people, especially teens, tend to over-value rewards, like thrill and approval from their peers. Sports only heighten the value of rewards like these. As a coach or administrator, you can override a young athletes’ impulse to ditch protective gear by mandating it for all sports under your supervision, educating young athletes about the risks of injury and reminding them of the importance of proper protection.
Sports that require a mouth guard or another form of protective gear include:
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Seeking Treatment: What To Do About A Sports-Related Facial Injury
If you or your child has suffered a facial injury from a sport, orthodontic treatment might be necessary.
After any serious blow to the face, you might want to meet with an experienced orthodontist. At Orthodontists Associates of Western New York, we can use an to diagnose your injury, and then discuss your options with you. You might need orthodontic treatment to realign a bite, or close gaps from lost teeth. Even if there is no visible damage, a blow to the face could cause a pulled or strained neck muscle, leading to pain in the jaw and ears. Our dental care professionals are ready to treat any condition resulting from a facial injury, whether it calls for traditional braces, clear braces or Invisalign, temporary anchorage devices, or surgery. In extreme cases, we can also refer patients to other oral surgeons, plastic surgeons, or speech therapists to help complete the recovery process.