Study: mouthguards work in protecting athletes from expensive injuries to teeth

CHAPEL HILL Common sense has led many dentists, sports physicians and athletic trainers to recommend custom-fitted plastic or rubber mouthguards for athletes to protect their teeth during rough play. Little or no convincing scientific evidence, however, supported the recommendation in sports other than football.

Publication this month of a new investigation by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers changes that. By studying players on 50 Division I mens college basketball teams, the researchers have found strong evidence that mouthguards protect against dental injuries in mens basketball, too.

The plastic or rubber devices, which act as cushions for teeth to absorb shock waves, apparently had no significant protective effect against concussions or lip or tongue lacerations in those athletes.

A report on the findings appears in the January issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. Authors are Drs. Cynthia R. LaBella, a sports medicine fellow at UNC at the time of the study; Bryan W. Smith, clinical assistant professor of orthopaedics and pediatrics at the school of medicine and head team physician; and Asgeir Sigurdsson, associate professor of endodontics at the school of dentistry.

Dental injuries can be permanent and disfiguring, LaBella said. They also are universally expensive to treat.

No definitive prospective studies existed on how common tooth injuries are among college basketball players, she said. Also, good evidence that mouthguards reduce risks of dental injuries in those players was notably lacking, and thats why she and her colleagues carried out their research.

LaBella contacted 100 college athletic trainers at Division I schools across the country. Fifty agreed to report data on dental injuries and concussions using an Internet Web site every week during the 20-week 1999-2000 basketball season. The response rate was 86

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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