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April is National Facial Protection Month

Dentists nationwide can help patients play it safe with sports safety precautions

Attention ADA member dentists: April is National Facial Protection Month, and it's time to team up with athletes, parents and coaches to raise awareness about the importance of guarding against dental and facial injuries.

The ADA has joined the American Association of Orthodontists, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the Academy for Sports Dentistry as a National Facial Protection Month sponsor.

From team sports like football, baseball and hockey to recreational fun like biking and rollerblading, children and adults alike spend a lot of time and money gearing up for an active lifestyle, but one important piece of equipment—a mouthguard—is often overlooked.

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than half of the seven million sports- and recreation-related injuries that occur each year involve children as young as 5 years old. The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation reported that athletes who don't wear mouthguards are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth—yet, in a survey commissioned by the AAO in 2009, 67 percent of parents admitted that their children do not wear a mouthguard during organized sports.

The AAO survey also found that 84 percent of children do not wear mouthguards while playing organized sports because they are not required to wear them, even though they may be required to wear other protective materials, such as helmets and shoulder pads.

At a time when a good football helmet or hockey stick may cost $200 each, mouthguards can be one of the least expensive pieces of protective equipment available.

"It's important for dentists to encourage their patients to wear a mouthguard because all it takes is one elbow to the jaw or a stray puck to the mouth to destroy their smile," said Dr. Ruchi Nijjar Sahota, an ADA spokeswoman who practices general dentistry in Fremont, Calif. "Dentists should talk to their patients about the variety of mouthguards available and help them select what's best for them." 

Dentists can also advise their active patients to wear helmets, protective eyewear and face shields when appropriate.

The ADA offers a variety of resources that dentists can use during National Facial Protection Month, including the Sports Safety brochure.

This six-panel handout highlights the essential role mouthguards play in helping prevent mouth and jaw injuries. It covers how to find a guard that fits, how to take care of the appliance and considerations for patients with orthodontia. The patient education tool also drives home the point that the best guard is one custom-made by your dentist and includes a list of dental emergency procedures to tear off and save.

A pack of 50 brochures is $26 for members and $39 for nonmembers and is available from the ADA Catalog. For a limited time, save 15 percent on all ADA Catalog purchases with promotional code 13120. Offer expires April 30. Order today at adacatalog.org or by calling 1-800-947-4746.

Patients can also find a variety of information and resources on facial protection and mouthguards at MouthHealthy.org.

Other handouts and links that dentists can use to mark National Facial Protection Month are available at AAOMS.org.