Oh, the trauma of athletic drama.
Dental injuries and athletics. The first thing that popped into your head after reading that first sentence was the stereotypical hockey player missing several teeth, right? That’s ok. It’s not wrong. Hockey is a very physical sport, lots of contact; high speed pucks flying and ricocheting off poles and walls, elbows and hockey sticks colliding into faces, crashes between opponent and let’s not forget it is all happening on ice. It can get aggressive and ugly for teeth really quick.
But hockey is just one sport. All sports, whether they are considered contact or not, can end with dental injuries. Dentists estimate that between 13% and 39% of dental related trauma and dental injuries occur while playing sports. If you played dodgeball or kickball as a kid in grade school, you are probably familiar with the intense shocking feeling of getting hit in the face by a ball. It doesn’t matter the size of the ball or from what material it’s made, an object smacking you in the face at high-velocity is always dangerous and can result in injury.
Which sports have are at risk of dental injuries?
Well, obviously there is hockey. But does baseball cross your mind when thinking of athletic dental injuries? Then there’s football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, boxing, martial arts and scuba diving. Yeah, scuba diving.
The sport with the highest risk of dental injuries is soccer. Think about it and it makes perfect sense. Soccer is one of the few sports where wearing a mouthguard is not mandatory. And can you imagine wearing a helmet or face mask while playing soccer? No, the only mandatory piece of protective gear for the sport are shin guards. Soccer can become quite the contact sport. We’ve all seen a soccer player dive, face first and use his/her head to knock the ball from an opponent to a teammate. And many players can wind up bouncing their heads off the ground after making that dive. We’ve seen a soccer player get a ball-full in the face as they try to block the opponent’s shots. A soccer player’s face is always in the line of fire, therefore, they tend to suffer from dental injuries more so than football or hockey players.
But that doesn’t negate the trauma football and hockey players endure.
Football and hockey players wear the most protective gear out of any other sport, including mouth guards, helmets and even face masks. But a flailing elbow or ball or puck smashing into ones face still makes an impact. And that impact can still result in dental injuries, if not immediately, eventually.
Any form of martial arts can see its fair share of dental injuries. Feet and fists with intense purpose aimed straight at your head, the amount of potential damage is obvious.
What are the major dental injuries that occur while playing sports?
It depends on the game played.
In soccer, the most common injuries are broken noses, concussions, and jaw trauma. Many soccer players suffer from something called Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction, or TMD. An umbrella term covering pain and dysfunction in the muscles responsible for moving the jaw. TMD can be caused by a variety of reasons, one of which is repeated trauma to the joints areas of the jaw. Soccer players also endure dental injuries through occlusal (the top surface of the teeth) trauma. Consider for a moment the impact when the player hits the ball with their head. The force can cause the player to knock his/her teeth together. After doing that several times a game, several games in a row, the teeth can develop micro fractures from banging against each other.
Football can see some of the same dental concerns- TMD and impact trauma in the tooth structure. But football players are required to wear helmets and mouthguards, so these are less of a major concern. The real concern comes from an ill-fitting mouthguard that can eventually cause the teeth to shift after repeated impact. Shifting teeth can cause a misalignment of the jaw, over time. Football players also experience jaw fractures, tooth fractures and loose teeth from the impact of being tackled. Unfortunately for most players, a small fracture in the jaw or tooth usually doesn’t get him taken off the field. The impact trauma can go undetected for quite a while, which may cause a whole new set of problems.
Basketball players usually wear mouthguards nowadays. And occasionally we’ll see a player with a face mask (though it’s usually to protect their eyes and nose rather than their mouths). But again the ill-fitting mouthguard comes into play. And again the impact trauma can occur from a flailing elbow or a loose ball.
Baseball is not considered a contact sport. There is very little diving to the ground. Very rarely is a baseball player being tackled by an opponent. But there is a very hard, small object flying at speeds between 80 and 110 mph heading straight for the batter. We’ve all seen a batter get beaned with an out of control curve ball. And yes, batters are required to wear protective helmets. But they are not required to wear mouthguards. So consider an out of control fastball hits the batter in the head. Besides ringing in his ears, that batter probably also has a concussion and possible cheek and/or jaw fractures, and the teeth get a bit of a knock around.
The main dental injuries caused by participating in martial arts are pretty obvious- loose teeth, lost teeth, tooth and jaw fractures. Lots of power in a punch or kick means lots of potential damage.
And then there is scuba diving. Remember reading that above and scratching your head? Scuba diving. What possible dental injuries can come from scuba diving? Scuba divers can suffer from tooth and jaw joint related problems- often called diver’s mouth syndrome, caused by the change in air pressure and unintentionally biting too hard on the scuba air regulator. A pain referred to as “tooth squeeze” is caused by the change in air pressure, particularly when the diver has a large cavity, a temporary filling, gum disease, periodontal abscess or an incomplete root canal.
How can one prevent sports related dental injuries?
The most important protective gear a person can invest in for dental safety is a properly fitted mouthguard. Wearing properly fitting head gear with a chin guard can reduce the risk of impact trauma. And of course, regular dental examinations will help catch any injury before it grows into a severe concern. Building a routine-based relationship with your dentist is the best way to prevent and diagnose injuries sustained from sports. Seeing your dentist before starting the sports season and then after the season will ensure the health of your teeth.
This isn’t just advice for the professional athlete. This information is just as valid for those in school sports as well as the friends who enjoy the regular pick-up game. If you enjoy playing a sport; be it soccer, baseball, basketball, football or a martial art, taking the proper measures to prevent injury, and getting checked out immediately if you suspect an injury is the best way to keep your pearly-whites in your mouth, safe, sound and healthy, and not in the tooth fairy’s pocket.