Custom-made mouthguards are widely accepted as an important component of protecting student athletes from orofacial injuries, and new research suggests they may also reduce the incidence of traumatic brain injuries (TBI)/concussions.
The research, published by the Academy of General Dentistry in the May/June, 2014 issue of General Dentistry, followed 412 male high school football athletes from six teams in Pennsylvania. Three teams -- 220 athletes -- wore custom fitted mouthguards. The remaining three teams with 192 athletes wore over-the-counter mouthguards of their own choosing. All teams wore the same helmets. The study showed athletes wearing custom mouthguards had less than half the incidence of TBI/concussions – 3.6 percent as opposed to 8.3 percent of the athletes wearing over-the-counter types.
The difference appears to be linked to the increased thickness offered by a custom mouthguard, enabling it to more effectively absorb shock, increase head and neck stability, and limit movement from a direct hit to the jaw.
Both categories of injury – TBI/concussions and orofacial – are widespread among young athletes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate “U.S. emergency departments (EDs) treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreation-related TBIs, including concussions, among children and adolescents, from birth to 19 years.” In 2011, the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation predicted that 3 million teeth would be knocked out during youth sporting events.
Custom mouthguards are increasingly being used to help protect kids from these types of injuries. Organizations including the National Federation of State High School Associations, the American Dental Association and the Academy for Sports Dentistry encourage use of custom mouthguards as the best protection against orofacial injury. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), athletes who don’t wear a mouthguard are 60 times more likely to suffer injuries to the teeth. The AAP recommends a custom mouthguard to achieve the best fit and protection for all athletes, especially for athletes who wear braces or have a fixed bridge.
Dr. Jennifer Granlund of Distinctive Dentistry in Fife, agrees. “The latest research seems to indicate that custom mouthguards are helpful in decreasing the incidence of traumatic brain injuries. As for dental injuries, the research clearly shows that custom mouthguards are much more effective than over-the-counter versions. They offer the best protection for our student athletes which is important – permanent teeth don’t grow back.”