School is back in full swing again and, for many of us, contact sports are once more part of our daily lives. Team sports provide physical activity, teach perseverance, teamwork, and give our kids something fun to look forward to every year. As a children’s dentist, though, it’s our job to help your kids protect their teeth during football and hockey season.
If your child has a good, trustworthy coach; they play by the rules, don’t exhibit unnecessary risk-taking behavior, and don’t practice excessive roughness, you’re already doing well. There are only a few additional items you need to think of when it comes to protecting their teeth.
Helmets and mouthguards are both important when it comes to protecting your child’s smile, but they’re only effective when they fit correctly.
The Right Helmet
To ensure a helmet provides proper protection for your child, three main factors are important:
- The helmet is appropriate for the activity
- The helmet fits properly
- The helmet is undamaged
If you’ve already enrolled your child in school sports, you have the first part figured out. Still, most helmets are carefully tailored to their specific sport and often aren’t appropriate for other uses. A bicycle helmet, for instance, makes for a poor hockey helmet.
If a helmet doesn’t fit correctly, it won’t offer your child much protection. In fact, an improperly fitted helmet can give your child a false sense of security, which might make injuries even worse.
The Rush University Medical Center put together a great checklist for making sure your child’s helmet fits correctly.
A well-fitting helmet:
- feels comfortable but snug
- sits evenly on your child’s head (not tilted back or pulled too low over the forehead)
- should not move in any direction, neither front to back, nor side to side
- has a secure buckle to prevent the helmet from falling off on impact
- is easy to adjust and fits properly without much adjustment
Football and hockey helmets are designed to withstand multiple impacts, but they don’t last forever. They usually don’t last past one severe impact, and you need to replace the helmet if it shows cracks or excessive dents.
Helmets are tough, and they’re important for protecting your child’s head and teeth, but they have their limits. Know when it’s time to get a new helmet.
Keeping your child’s smile healthy starts with a reliable, properly-fitting helmet and continues with a good mouthguard.
Though some children bristle at the thought of wearing a mouthguard, it’s worth the argument. All children with permanent teeth should wear a mouthguard during games and practice.
Athletes are 60x more likely to experience injuries to their teeth or jaw when they don’t wear a mouthguard. Mouthguards help prevent 200,000 or more injuries each year. Yet, for some reason, only 36% of school age athletes wear mouthguards.
If you’re having trouble getting your child to wear a mouthguard, run those statistics by them. Chances are they want to keep their winning smile, too.
We recommend you try a store-bought, boil-to-fit mouth guard, first. Sometimes it takes a bit more work to fit a mouthguard for younger athletes, and this guide outlines the process nicely. These mouthguards are effective, and they’ll help your child get comfortable with wearing a mouthguard during games and practice. Once they’re ready, they can come to Dr. Randy’s office for a custom mouthguard fitting.
Children often outgrow custom mouthguards, so we’ll be happy to advise you if it’s the right time to switch to something a bit more effective than a store-bought mouthguard. We also offer mouthguards in custom colors, which tends to make kids more excited to wear and show off their mouthguards.
Kids love contact sports and, as parents, so do we. There’s nothing better than seeing your child rise up to a challenge and play their best. As a children’s dentist, we know the important role healthy teeth and a beautiful smile play throughout your child’s whole life. With the right helmet and mouthguard, you can help protect your child’s teeth, even when the game gets intense.
Dr. Randy Pagenkopf