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Around 45 million children and teenagers in the United States play an organized sport, and 3 out of 4 American families have a child under 18 who participates in at least one sport. In recent years concerns about the safety of youth sports have increased, especially with increasing awareness of concussions and their lingering effects. One overlooked area of sports injuries is orofacial injuries, those affecting the mouth and face. Orofacial injuries comprise a significant percentage of sport-related injuries, but many sports do not require facial protection.
Orofacial injuries don't just occur in high-level sports. They're common even in youth sports and unorganized sports:
Most of us are familiar with the old image of the hockey goon with missing teeth, but an orofacial injury can occur during any sport with the potential for contact or falls. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children and youth participants in every organized sport use a mouth guard, and the American Dental Association (ADA) singles out the following sports for mouth guard usage:
Contrary to what you might expect, the highest incidence rates for sports-related dental injuries in 7-17 year olds occur in baseball and basketball. Baseball has the highest incidence with 7-12 year old children and basketball has the most frequent injuries for 13-17 year olds. Both these sports have the potential for contact, a fast-moving ball, the potential for falls, and periods of fast-paced play. Neither sport, however, requires mouth protection at the youth level.
The National Federation of State High School Associations requires mouthguards for only four sports: football, lacrosse, field hockey, and ice hockey. Mouth protection is also mandated for wrestlers who have fixed orthodontics appliances like braces. And notably, studies have shown a significant decrease in dental injuries for these sports since establishing mouth protection requirements, as well as higher percentages of these injuries in sports without requirements:
Despite these statistics, mouth guard use is lacking in youth sports:
Proper facial protection can make a youth athlete up to seven times less likely to sustain an orofacial injury. Consider the following facial protection options for your child: