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National Youth Sports Week: How to Find the Right Face and Head Protection for School Sports

National Youth Sports Week: How to Find the Right Face and Head Protection for School Sports

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.

Football Mouthguard

The Prevalence of Facial Injuries

Orofacial injuries don't just occur in high-level sports. They're common even in youth sports and unorganized sports:

  • 12 million people between 5 and 22 suffer a sport-related injury annually.
  • Sports injuries account for 20 million lost school days and $33 billion in healthcare costs annually.
  • Between 13-39 percent of all dental injuries are sports-related.
  • An athlete has a 10 percent chance of receiving an orofacial injury every season of play.
  • Athletes have a 33-56 percent chance of receiving an orofacial injury during their playing career.

What Sports are Most Dangerous?

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:

  • Acrobatics and Gymnastics.
  • Baseball and Softball.
  • Basketball.
  • Bicycling.
  • Boxing.
  • Equestrian Events.
  • Extreme Sports: skateboarding, skiing, inline skating, surfing, sky diving.
  • Football.
  • Handball.
  • Hockey: field hockey, ice hockey.
  • Lacrosse.
  • Martial Arts.
  • Racquetball and Squash.
  • Rugby.
  • Shotputting.
  • Soccer.
  • Volleyball.
  • Water Polo.
  • Weightlifting.
  • Wrestling.

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.

Karate Mouthguard

Protective Gear: Mouthguards and Beyond

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:

  • Orofacial injuries in football have dropped from nearly 50 percent to .5 percent since 1962, when faceguards and mouth protectors were mandated at the high school and collegiate levels.
  • 62 percent of sports-related dental injuries occur during a non-organized sport (such as bicycling, skateboarding, or inline skating).
  • 56 percent of orofacial injuries and 75 percent of concussions in youth sports occur without mouth guard use.

Despite these statistics, mouth guard use is lacking in youth sports:

  • Only about two-thirds of football players are in compliance with mouth guard rules.
  • Only about 7 percent of youth soccer players use mouth guards.
  • Only about 7 percent of youth baseball and softball players use mouth guards.

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:

  • Mouth Guard: even in non-contact sports, these are important for preventing injuries to teeth, as well as lip or tongue lacerations.
  • Helmets: helps absorb impacts to the head.
  • Face Shields: some helmets have these, especially in sports where fast-moving balls or pucks are featured.
  • Protective Eyewear: the eyes can be extremely vulnerable during sports. Youths who need vision correction may already wear these, but all youths should consider protective eyewear especially for extreme sports or any sport with sticks, rackets, or a fast-moving ball or puck.
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