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NHL team dentist champions mouthguards

April 01, 2016

By Michelle Manchir


Dr. Long
Raleigh, N.C. — Dr. Thomas Long, a lifelong ice hockey player, didn't rise to the ranks of the National Hockey League as an athlete, but he still contributes to professional hockey players' success because he's a dentist.

Since 1997 Dr. Long has been one of the team dentists for the Carolina Hurricanes, providing players with cleanings, mouthguards and even responding to tooth loss after injuries on the ice. Many nights, after a day at his practice in Raleigh, he showers and dresses for his second gig at the PNC Arena downtown.

"For me just being at a professional hockey game 41 times a year is great. I just love it," he said.

Dr. Long, who played ice hockey in college, believes widespread mouthguard use by the professionals is one of the reasons he has seen fewer dental injuries among athletes in recent years when compared to decades ago.  

"I think the athletes are more aware of the importance of taking care of their mouths," Dr. Long said.

April is National Facial Protection Month, making mouthguards and sports injuries on the mind for some in the dental profession.

Athletes should wear a mouthguard any time they're engaged in an activity where their face can come into contact with something hard, whether it's a player, ball, the pavement or any hard object, according to the organizational sponsors of National Facial Protection Month, which includes the ADA, the American Association of Orthodontists, the Academy for Sports Dentistry, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Dr. Long said dentists can help young patients resistant to wearing mouthguards understand their importance.

"Anyone that has teeth knocked loose or broken badly will likely eventually have dental problems, even if it is years later," he said. "It's just a whole lot easier to protect yourself — and it's easier on your parents too."

Dr. Long said his training in trauma, which he gained during his time in the military in the 1980s, along with a deep familiarity with the sport helped him prepare for his sometimes arduous, and sometimes gruesome, work with the NHL team.

"A background with some trauma training really helps," he said about the skills necessary to be a team dentist. "Having good relationships with the specialists in your area is also a good thing. I also played hockey all my life, so I am used to what is going on in the sport — and I can sometimes anticipate what may happen."

Sometimes the worst does happen. In a recent phone call with ADA News, Dr. Long recalled an injury in which an NHL athlete's mouthguard was cut in half and four of his anterior teeth were "knocked to the back of this throat."

"They weren't broken," Dr. Long said. "So we put them back in and reimplanted them."

Dr. Long responded to an athlete whose neck was stepped on, causing a cut "from his chin all the way down the side of his neck. You could watch the carotid artery pulse." Dr. Long was among the responders who treated the man, helping cut sutures on the spot. The athlete eventually recovered and returned to the ice.

Despite the stress and sometimes-late hours — Dr. Long is required to be present at every home game and provide necessary treatment for both the Hurricanes and the opposing team — it's a gig he's not planning to step away from soon.

"I love it," he said. "I'm tired out the next day, but I get through it. I just love being there."

Dentists can direct patients to the ADA consumer website, MouthHealthy.org, for updated information about mouthguards.

The ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations and the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs encourage patient education about the benefit of mouthguard use.