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Protecting young athletes' mouths, teeth

March 20, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Santa Rosa, Calif. — Dr. Ron Cox remembers the day he decided to take the lead in ensuring young athletes in his community have properly fitting, effective mouthguards.


Dr. Cox
An assistant coach for a competitive youth soccer league, he was on the sidelines of a game in 2014 when he watched one of his team's star forwards sustain a punch to the mouth when her defender became frustrated.

"I thought, 'oh my gosh, I'm going to have to go out there and find her tooth,'" he said he remembers thinking.

Thankfully, the athlete suffered only a split lip.

That night, though, Dr. Cox emailed the team's parents, offering to make a custom mouthguard for any athlete who would use it.

When only six parents responded, Dr. Cox, who planned to retire at the end of the year, decided to "create something bigger," he said.

"I wanted to use my love of dentistry and sports and be able to help some people," he said.

In 2015, Dr. Cox launched the Save Our Smiles Sports Guard Foundation.

Now an active nonprofit group, Dr. Cox said he used his own funding and network to get it off the ground. An accountant friend helped him with the red tape of getting 501(c)(3) status. Dentsply and Patterson Dental agreed to give him discounts on materials.

He worked with his local dental organization, the Redwood Empire Dental Society, and eventually self-funded his organization so it could have nonprofit status. 

Meanwhile, a local chapter of the women's philanthropy group, Soroptimists, agreed to donate $4,000, with the understanding that he would target especially young women athletes and any athlete who could not afford their own custom mouthguard.

Dr. Cox also got involved with the Academy for Sports Dentistry, he said, where he found supporters who helped get the word out about his effort. Dr. Ray Padilla, his longtime friend who has worked as a team dentist for professional and university sports teams, also worked with Dr. Cox to perfect his mouthguard fabrication technique, Dr. Cox said.

Barely two years into his project, Dr. Cox said he, along with his wife, Carol, who helps him with bookkeeping, have equipped with custom mouthguards more than 220 student athletes involved in football, lacrosse, ice hockey, basketball and other sports in the counties his dental society serves.

In California, Dr. Cox said, high school athletes in some sports are required to use a mouthguard. Many, he said, use an inexpensive boil-and-bite apparatus that he said do little to protect mouths. The mouthguard Dr. Cox expertly crafts ensure the young athletes can drink water and talk while wearing it, he said.

"These kids will say, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't realize it could actually be comfortable,'" Dr. Cox said, adding that he once received an email from a parent who shared her son's appreciation.

"She said that he would put his mouthguard in as soon as they got in the car on the way to a game," he said.

Dr. Cox shares his story as the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and other dental organizations including the ADA prepare to mark National Facial Protection Month in April.

"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," according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons' website.

"Many oral and facial injuries can be easily prevented with the use of sports safety equipment like helmets and mouth guards."

The ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention and the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs encourage patient education about the benefit of mouthguard use.

Dr. Cox said ADA members with questions about his work can email him at reclcox@comcast.net or call him at 1-707-579-2336.

For more information about the Academy for Sports Dentistry or fabricating quality mouthguards, visit academyforsportsdentistry.org. Read more about Dr. Cox's efforts in June in the Journal of the California Dental Association.

Dentists can refer their patients to the ADA consumer website MouthHealthy.org.