Sports can allow your child to explore new interests, stay active, and develop their coordination and social skills.
But as much fun as a new sport can be for your little slugger, young athletes are at a higher risk for sports-related injuries.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, there are 7 million injuries sustained by athletes as young as 5 years old every year.
And the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (NYSSF) once predicted more than 3 million knocked-out teeth in youth sporting events in just one year.
A knocked-out tooth or jaw injury is of course painful for your tike — and replacing a tooth can take a hit to your wallet, too.
Proactively taking steps to protect your child’s teeth in sports is the best way to lessen their risk of injury (and your risk of a high dental bill).
From mouth guards to helmets to teaching safe play, here’s how you can protect your child’s teeth in sports.
Use a mouth guard
Did you know your child is more than 60 times more likely to suffer a sports injury without a mouth guard?
Yet 67% of parents claim their athlete doesn’t wear a mouth guard when they run onto the field for a contact sports.
The main three reasons that kids aren’t using mouth guards? Uncomfortable mouth guard designs, no rules mandating mouth guard usage in certain sports, and overall lack of awareness of how effective mouth guards are in preventing injury.
If your kid plays a contact sport like football, basketball, hockey, volleyball, martial arts, boxing, lacrosse or wrestling, they should always wear a mouth guard to protect their head, teeth and jaw from injury.
To combat the discomfort of generic stock or boil-and-bite mouth guards that you buy at the store, your dentist can make a customized mouth guard to fit your child’s mouth.
Talk to your child’s sports coach and other athletes’ parents about making mouth guards part of the team uniform. It’s easier to get your kid to wear their mouth guard when all their teammates are doing the same — plus, it’s much cheaper for parents to buy a mouth guard than it is to pay for a dental emergency.
Wear a helmet
If your kid plays football, baseball, softball or men’s lacrosse, then they should already be wearing a helmet when they hit the field (or step up to bat.) That’s good news for parents, as helmets help absorb the energy of impact and help prevent damage to your athlete’s head, jaw and teeth.
The same goes if your kid likes to tear up the ski hill when winter rolls around — helmets can help cut some potential ski and snowboard injuries in half.
But if your kid likes to bike, think twice before you have them strap on a bicycle helmet — recent reports have shown that bicycle helmets may not be as effective at protecting injury as previously thought.
Your athlete may be better off with a skateboard helmet to protect themselves from brain injury before they hit the pavement on a bike, skateboard or rollerblades. Just make sure to replace the helmet after a major crash or if it has any dents or cracks.
Don’t overlook wrist guards or elbow and knee pads, either. These can help protect injuries to when your child is skating or biking, but they can also help reduce bone-on-bone or bone-on-tooth contact in team sports like wrestling, volleyball and hockey.
Choose shock-absorbing playground material
The environment where your athlete plays can make a difference in their risk for bumps, bruises and knocked-out teeth during play.
Goal posts and other hard poles should be wrapped in rubber or foam to offer cushioning upon impact. This padding can save your child’s teeth and jaw from injuries if they run into them in the heat of the game.
Even the design of your backyard playground can either potentially help (or hurt) your kid’s teeth. Grass, mulch or sand make for much softer impact than gravel.
And make sure your playground’s surface material is deep enough so a tumble doesn’t lead to a knocked-out tooth on the bottom of a hard sandbox.
For field sports, try to find fields that are well-maintained and have plenty of grass. A dry, dirt surface is harder on impact and can cause more damage to the mouth.
Teach safe play
Beyond encouraging your athlete to wear protective equipment, teaching your child about the importance of safe play can make a big difference in preventing dental injuries during the game.
Teach your kid how to play safe and how to avoid potential injury when they’re on the field. And make sure your child is playing a sport that’s supervised by a coach who prioritizes safe play.
On top of that, emphasizing the importance of being a good sport can help your young athlete from losing their cool and initiating aggressive or irresponsible gameplay.
After all, keeping all their teeth and avoiding the emergency room is a pretty great reward — win or lose.
If your child does knock out a tooth and you don’t have dental insurance, you’ve got a few options for finding affordable dental care quick.