Dental defence


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Remember back to the days of riding a 5-speed full throttle down the street. Legs pedaling faster than the tires would spin, shoulders down and above the handlebars for maximum aerodynamics, hair flowing in the wind unprotected by a helmet. Although helmet use was mandated in 1995 in Ontario, initially there was very little buy-in. Bike helmets were not cool, but over time their importance was obvious. Helmets slowly became (relatively) cool. A similar movement is happening within the world of sport with mouthguards.

A 1997 Stat Can study examined percentages of bike riders that wear helmets. The study found that “only a minority of teenage and adult cyclists were helmet users.” The study found that only 16 per cent of riders aged 12-14 wore a helmet, while only 8 per cent of the older, cool-seeking teens at 15-19 years old wore helmets.

Comparing these stats to a similar Stat Can study conducted 11 years later, helmet use more than doubled in many cases. Those aged 12-19 skyrocketed to 30 per cent, while riders of all ages averaged more than 35 per cent helmet-usage. One third of all bike riders wearing helmets is still very low considering how important all cyclists (hopefully) understand helmets to be.

Mouthguards face the same skepticism as bicycle helmets. According to Dr. Viraj Vora, a registered Endodontic Specialist in Canada, whose area of expertise is the tissues surrounding teeth, mouthguards are important pieces of equipment for basketball players. Similar to a bike helmet, mouthguards are inexpensive, easy to use, and can prevent potential catastrophes. Nobody plans to fall off a bike, just like nobody plans to get hit in the face, but it happens.

The game of basketball requires players to be within elbow-striking range of another player for the entirety of the game. Whether it is taking a contested jumper, diving for a loose ball, fighting for a rebound or even running around a screen, there is a possibility for injury with every dribble.

When teeth get knocked out or displaced, the surrounding tissues are disturbed and an endodontist is required more-so than a family dentist. Dr. Vora says mouthguards could be potentially tooth-saving.

“A mouthguard would probably lessen the traumatic injury,” Dr. Vora says, “meaning that if you didn’t have a mouthguard the tooth would probably get knocked out, but if you did have a mouthguard then the tooth may not get knocked out, it may be another injury that might be better manageable.”

Concussion prevention with mouthguard use is still largely up for debate, but the dental protection is undeniable. In 2005 the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association released an article addressing the importance of mouthguards in sport. A selection from the article reads: “Dentists can certainly confirm the beneficial effects of mouthguards in reducing dental trauma but should be extremely cautious in making any unsubstantiated claims regarding prevention of concussion.”

“Every once in awhile you might catch an elbow and might chip a tooth or something but I haven’t seen tons in basketball,” says George Brown men’s basketball head coach Jonathan Smith.

“Usually what happens is if somebody gets hit and maybe a tooth is a little bit sensitive or something they might wear one for a while, then they forget all about it,” says Smith. “Then they forget it in the changeroom and then they lose it and they don’t bother.”

Smith has coached a lot of basketball, having coached basketball all over Toronto for more than a quarter of a century. Early in his coaching career he earned a Volunteer of the Year Award from the Mayor of Toronto at the time for his work with inner city youth at the Driftwood Community Centre. Smith also excelled as a player, earning the Athlete of the Year award at Boylen Collegiate.

He has seen his fair share of basketball, and although he says injuries are rare, Smith shared his own basketball horror story.

“When I was in middle school we were trapping, I just happened to be behind a fellow teammate and he moved his head and he knocked my two front teeth backward and I had to have a root canal,” says Smith.

A mouthguard would have probably helped young coach Smith avoid a root canal, but there is a reason mouthguards aren’t more popular among basketball players – they are annoying.

Basketball is naturally a very vocal sport. Players constantly have to communicate with teammates for positioning queues and on-the-fly coaching. A player will shout “iso” when they want their team to play in isolation, which instructs teammates to disperse and create a one-on-one situation. Often times ‘right’ or ‘left’ is shouted when a defender is about to be blocked, alerting the teammate to a potential play forming to that side. Muffled communication is a main concern with mouthguards.

“A lot of them don’t like wearing it because in terms of communication, unless it’s a specially molded one, some guys find it hard talking and don’t like using them,” says Smith.

Under Armour is among the leaders of the mouthguard movement, especially for basketball players. They work to address the issues of price and communication.

Troy Stephens, director of national accounts for U.S. and Canada says that they are confident in their product. So much so that each mouthguard has a $32,000 dental protection policy and a one year warranty.

Although any mouthguard can be used to protect the teeth of a basketball player, Under Armour has developed one specifically for them. Currently only available online from the United States the UA Hoops mouthguards caters to the specific needs and concerns of a hardwood warrior.

“It is a lower profile mouthguard enabling the athlete to speak and breathe properly during action. But it is also made of the ArmourFit material that is microwaveable or boilable, it is refittable and highly chew-resistant,” says Stephens.

With the exception of maybe one player for a small amount of time on the George Brown men’s basketball team, according to coach Smith, nobody wears a mouthguard. This would be a very low league-wide indicator if the same can be says for the rest of OCAA basketball.

While it was crazy to think that only 8 per cent of kids wore a bike helmet, think that even less wear a mouthguard in the OCAA. It may be tough to shout ‘iso!’, or ‘left!’, with a mouthguard in, but it would be even more difficult to shout after an elbow to the face.