Help prevent sports injuries this summer

A child's mouth and face can easily be injured if the correct precautions and equipment are not used during organized sports. In fact, sports-related injuries are the leading cause of emergency room visits in 12- to 17-year-olds according to the Centers for Disease Control, and a typical emergency room visit for a child can cost anywhere from $425 to $550 according to Blue Cross Blue Shield. A new survey, however, reveals parents do not enforce the use of some inexpensive protective sports gear, such as mouth guards, in many kids' sports. Since many oral sports injuries can be prevented by wearing mouth guards, why aren't more parents and kids getting the message?

To help educate parents, coaches, and kids, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) has teamed up with Jennifer Montana, wife of football great Joe Montana and the mother of two sons who play football, to urge athletes to "play it safe" by wearing mouth guards and other appropriate protective gear when participating in many sports and activities. She is helping the AAO to announce the results of a recent survey on sports, mouth guards and facial protection.

The AAO commissioned a survey* of parents to determine why many preventable face and mouth injuries are still so prevalent among young athletes. Overall, the survey results showed the need for better education of parents and coaches about the risks and need for mouth guards and other protective measures in contact sports.

    The survey found:
  • Mouth guard use is very low -- 67% of parents surveyed said that their child does not wear a mouth guard -- yet, 70% said that their biggest fear when their child plays organized sports is that they will get hurt.
    o One out of every four (27%) parents surveyed said their child has sustained an injury during an organized sport that resulted in a trip to the emergency room.

  • Most coaches and leagues are not advising the use of mouth guards -- Of the parents whose children do not wear a mouth guard during organized sports, including practice, 84% said it's because the league or coach does not require it.
  • Many parents have misconceptions on which sports kids should wear mouth guards -- The sports parents most cited that mouth guards should be required for include, football (90%), roller/ice hockey (74%) and wrestling (65%). Less than half of parents' surveyed felt mouth guards were necessary for other popular contact sports, including basketball (36%), baseball/softball (37%) and soccer (45%). Only 3% said that cheerleading should require the use of mouth guards.
    Collision and contact sports have higher injury rates, and mouth guards should be worn in all contact sports. Specifically, baseball, soccer, basketball and football account for about 80% of all sports-related emergency room visits for children between 5 and 14 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    Cheerleading is one of the most dangerous sports for women, accounting for 65% of all catastrophic injuries in high school girls' athletics, according to, August 2008.
  • Children with braces need to wear mouth guards -- One out of every three (31%) parents reported that their child had orthodontic treatment or braces while playing an organized sport.
    Children in orthodontic treatment should wear a mouth guard during organized sports and practice. Patients can sustain mouth lacerations if braces are hit with a ball or by another player.
  • "As a parent of two children who play football, I know firsthand how important it is to keep your kids safe on the playing field," said Montana. "The survey results, though, highlight the need for parents and coaches of kids in other contact sports, such as baseball, softball, soccer and basketball, to better understand the risks and the need for the use of mouth guards and other facial protection." Mouth guards are one of the least expensive pieces of protective equipment available. Over-the-counter versions cost as little as $5, although custom-fit mouth guards offer greater protection. Not only do mouth guards save teeth, they may protect jaws. An orthodontist can recommend the best mouth guard for an athlete who wears braces.

    "I've seen children and adults ruin their healthy, beautiful smiles -- or worse -- because they do not take the proper precautions during sports," says Raymond George, Sr., DMD, orthodontist and AAO president. "Mouth guards should be common sense for parents, athletes and coaches when it comes to hard hitting sports."

    Mouth guards can provide protection only when they are worn. So parents and coaches should remind youngsters to always wear them when participating in any activity during which the mouth might come into contact with a hard object or the pavement. Consistent use of other protective equipment is important, too. Mandated for many organized sports, helmets save lives and prevent head injuries. Face guards, devices made of plastic or metal that attach to baseball helmets, also help to prevent facial injuries. How can kids and other athletes play it safe?

    Just remember these important tips:

  • Wear mouth guards for contact sports. Mouth guards can help prevent jaw, mouth and teeth injuries and are less costly than repairing an injury.
  • Wear a helmet. Helmets absorb the energy of an impact.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Eyes are extremely vulnerable.
  • Wear a face shield to avoid scratched or bruised skin. Hockey pucks, basketballs, and racquetballs can do severe damage.
  • In addition:

  • Be alert even as a spectator. Alert spectators can avoid foul baseballs and flying hockey pucks. Watch your step when climbing bleachers.
  • Be aware of family pets. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Almost one in five of those who are bitten require medical attention. A study published in the March 2009 issue of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery reported that 27 percent of dog bite injuries were caused by family pets.
  • Buckle up and use child safety seats. Unbuckled passengers are more likely to suffer a brain injury in a crash than the buckled driver.
  • Keep babies and toddlers safe. They crawl and climb, so pad sharp corners of tables, lock cabinets, install stairwell safety gates, and secure windows. They also teethe, so hide sharp pencils.
  • Use common sense. If an activity carries risk of dental/facial injury, gear up. Without it, even a basketball game could land you or a loved one in the emergency room.
  • For more information and tips about facial protection, go to the American Association of Orthodontist's Web site at

    About Lee W. Graber, D.D.S., M.S., M.S., Ph.D., Secretary-Treasurer, American Association of Orthodontists

    Dr. Graber, an orthodontist for more than 35 years, is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. He later earned a master's degree in anatomy and a doctorate in human growth and development from the same institution. He received his orthodontic education at Northwestern University. He is in private practice near Chicago in Vernon Hills.

    Dr. Graber serves as the secretary-treasurer of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) and is on the Board of Trustees, representing the Midwestern Society of Orthodontists (MSO). He is a past president of the World Federation of Orthodontists. He also served as president of the Illinois Society of Orthodontists and the MSO. Past faculty positions include Northwestern University, Loyola University and the University of Michigan.

    Dr. Graber is on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics and the World Journal of Orthodontics, among others. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics. Dr. Graber is a member of several professional organizations including the AAO, the American Dental Association, the Illinois State Dental Society, the Illinois Society of Orthodontists and the World Federation of Orthodontists.

    For more information and tips about facial protection, go to the American Association of Orthodontist's Web site at

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