The dental dangers of sports
Mouthguards are recommended for most sports, even football where a face shield helps protect the face. (The Gazette)
Injuries in sports are not uncommon, and many eventually heal, leaving few scars.
However, a blow to the mouth usually has longer lasting effects and can end up causing lifelong difficulties.
In sixth grade, City High senior Haileigh broke a tooth while playing football during recess at her elementary school. An incident like this would generally be considered minor compared to other sports-related injuries, but the time and money spent on the injury was anything but.
“(It was) a very clean chip, so (the dentists) kept reattaching my tooth until my mouth was more developed,” Steffen said.
However, the more the chipped part of the tooth was glued together, the easier it became to break it again. The tooth’s constant regluing caused it to become crooked, leading to Steffen needing braces to fix her alignment, even though before the injury it was predicted that she would never need them.
“It became a problem to deal with,” Steffen said. “Lots of medical bills for a stupid accident years ago.”
Ryan Stuntz, a dentist working in Farley who was president of the Iowa Dental Association in 2020, has seen his fair share of sports injuries during his career.
“(If) you get a tooth knocked out, it’s gone for life,” Stuntz said. “So you have ongoing maintenance. You’re going to have to replace it, and that’s usually expensive. (The price) can range from a few thousand to five or six thousand dollars to replace a single tooth.
“And the chances of that replacement lasting your lifetime are very small. You will probably have to have it redone several times.
People have only two pairs of teeth – primary teeth, which start growing around 6 months of age and fall out by age 12, and permanent teeth, which replace primary teeth as they age. they fall off and stay with you for the rest of your life.
According to Forbes, the average price of replacing a permanent tooth with an implant ranges from $3,000 to $4,500.
Most athletes injure their teeth with a blow directly to the mouth or lower jaw. This impact can cause chipped teeth, or even knock one out completely. Contact sports such as basketball and football often have the highest risk due to the number of collisions between players.
“(Dental blows) happen quite often,” said Brennan Swayzer, head coach of the City High men’s basketball team. “At least once a practice (or) twice in a game we have a guy checking a random elbow or shoulder in the mouth.”
Basketball is one of the sports with the highest risk of dental injuries. This is mainly due to the number of collisions with other players in restricted areas such as under the hoop. In a survey of Florida college basketball players, 31% of players surveyed had suffered a dental injury during the season.
This prevalence of dental blows contrasts sharply with the number of people wearing mouthguards. Studies have shown that in most contact sports, less than half of players wear mouth guards, with some sports like football and baseball only reaching 7%.
“I know (mouth guards) work, and I should probably wear one, but they’re boring. I yell and communicate a lot when I play, and I think a mouth guard would get in the way of that,” said junior Julius Perez, a member of the City High football team.
The effectiveness of mouthguards has been known for many years. In 1962, college football players were required to start using mouth guards, and some studies show that this change alone dropped the rate of dental injuries by nearly 50%.
“Just wear a mouth guard,” Stuntz said. “A typical soft mouthguard will work pretty well, and it’ll be a little thicker and a little less comfortable than a custom-made mouthguard, but for a few bucks you might save yourself some tooth loss.”
Mouth guards are not the only preventative measure used in sports. In softball and football, player helmets often include built-in face masks to block dangerous blows to the face from the ball or other players.
Michael J. Kanellis, a professor at the University of Iowa who works in the department of pediatric dentistry, has been in practice for nearly 40 years.
“If you look at football, initially there were no helmets, face masks and mouth guards,” he said. “As the injuries became more and more frequent, they decided it was not safe, and they changed to harder helmets and made them compulsory. Then they put on the face mask and continued with a mouth guard.
“So let’s say you’re an athlete who plays football and you cycle for training, (today) you’re more likely to wipe yourself on your bike and break your teeth on the way to the training that once you get to training, put on your mouth guard and put on your helmet.
However, people only get the protection if they actually wear mouth guards and other gear when training and competing.
“I remember when I fractured a tooth during wrestling practice my freshman year of high school,” Kanellis said. “(It ended up costing) thousands and thousands of dollars. If I had just worn a mouth guard, this wouldn’t have happened.
Although mouth guards are the most effective way to protect your teeth, many high school students already wear another type of mouth guard.
“Ironically, braces are one of the best protectors in the world,” Kanellis said. “You see kids getting punched in the mouth and the damage spread to multiple teeth, and then you can put (the teeth) back in place.”
In general, tooth injuries can be caused by something that seems minor, but can have major financial consequences.
“The trick is to protect yourself before you need it, because if you get hit in the mouth and you don’t have anything in it, it’s too late,” Stuntz said.