Cities and states across the country have gradually lifted mask mandates that were imposed during the outbreak of COVID-19 and its variants. Generally speaking, no states are now directing people to wear masks. Hawaii, the last state to do so, ended its requirement on March 25. With these easing restrictions and a renewed sense of liberation after a couple of fraught years, families are naturally returning to parks, playgrounds, beaches, events, and physical activities they enjoyed prior to the pandemic. But as sports resume and facial coverings dwindle, it’s important to remember that April is National Facial Protection Month. You may no longer need a mask, but you should still take precautions to ensure the safety of your mouth during group sports and other athletics.
Is There Really a National Facial Protection Month?
Yep, National Facial Protection Month is a real thing. It may not be as popular with folks as Talk Like a Pirate Day or National Doughnut Day, but it’s something the dental community takes seriously in its efforts to promote oral health and raise awareness of preventable injuries.
National Facial Protection Month is sponsored by the Academy for Sports Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dental Association, American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, and the American Association of Orthodontists.
“Spring often brings a flood of patients suffering with head, mouth and facial injuries resulting from sports-related accidents to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms,” the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) explains. “Many oral and facial injuries can be easily prevented with the use of sports safety equipment like helmets and mouth guards.”
We tend to associate head and mouth injuries with contact sports such as football and hockey, yet several activities also pose risks, particularly for children: bicycling, skateboarding, snowboarding, and more.
Protecting Your Pearly Whites and Baby Blues
You can play hard, but the nation’s top dental associations also want you to play safe. Recreational and organized sports, despite safety measures from organizers, still lend themselves to painful injuries. There are recommended steps we can take, however, to reduce the possibility or severity of contact.
Mouthguards are a Must
Mouthguards cost a lot less than extensive oral surgery, and they are a proven defense against mouth injuries. The American Dental Association endorses mouthguards as essential in preventing up to 200,000 dental injuries each year. The ADA also states that athletes are 60 times more likely to incur damage when not wearing this kind of protective gear.
The ADA also recommends wearing a properly fitted mouthguard to reduce the incidence and severity of oral injury in sporting or recreational activities, particularly activities with significant risk of dental trauma or orofacial injury. That means spending a bit more money on a professional-grade guard rather than the “boil and bite” kind, which wear down rapidly, interfere with breathing and speaking, and fail to fit properly, leading to uneven cushioning against impacts.
Mouthguards should be considered for a sweeping host of activities, not just contact sports. Here are some examples to drive the point home.
- Water Polo
- Equestrian Events
A well-constructed mouthguard should have the following characteristics:
- be properly fitted to the wearer’s mouth and accurately adapted to his or her oral structures;
- be made of resilient material approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and cover all remaining teeth on one arch, customarily the maxillary;
- stay in place comfortably and securely;
- be physiologically compatible with the wearer;
- be relatively easy to clean;
- have high-impact energy absorption to reduce or limit transmitted forces upon impact.
Better yet, check the label to make sure the product you’re considering bears the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which means it complies with ANSI/ADA Standard No. 99:2001 (reaffirmed 2013), Athletic Mouth Protectors and Materials. This standard sets the technical specifications for athletic mouthguard characteristics and physical properties, as well as instructions to manufacturers regarding labeling and packaging.
Wear a Helmet
Helmets absorb the energy of an impact and prevent damage to the head. For younger people, also consider helmets for non-contact activities such as biking or skateboarding.
Add a Face Shield
Helmets are great protection against falls, wipeouts, and hits. Baseball batters must wear a type of helmet. Football players wear helmets. However, sports like hockey expose the face and mouth to additional dangers with pucks flying around at high speeds. During activities where any sort of projectile could come into contact with the face, a plastic shield offers better protection.
Have Fun, Not Fractures
Some electric toothbrushes come equipped with pressure sensors, which beep or stop the head’s movement when aggressive brushing is detected. It’s not an imperative feature for most people who are evaluating what device to buy, but it can provide tremendous benefits for individuals who are switching from manual to electric toothbrushes for the first time.
Sure, your dentist enjoys seeing you, but usually for routine checkups and cleanings. Many dental emergencies are preventable – not just by maintaining healthy hygiene and habits, but also by taking steps to safeguard your mouth and teeth from dangers that can rip the fun out of a sport or the comfort out of a dental visit.
For more information on facial safety practices and advice, talk to your dentist!