Your teeth are important for everything from eating and nutrition to proper speech, so an injury to your teeth can have much larger implications than just affecting your beautiful smile. When engaging in certain kinds of physical activity, your mouth is potentially at risk for injury causing knocked-out teeth and injuries to the gums, lips, tongue, and surrounding tissues. Make sure you are always careful and take preventative measures to ensure you teeth and mouth stay healthy and injury-free.
Situations Where Tooth and Mouth Injuries Are Common
Most of your daily activities won’t put you at risk for tooth injury, but in the following situations you will want to have a mouth guard or take other precautions to prevent injury.
- Babies and toddlers who are learning to walk will stumble and fall a lot. It is important to keep an eye on them to make sure they are careful, and if they are in this early stumbling phase, don’t let them practice on a hard surface like concrete or asphalt.
- Sports injuries are a common reason for a visit to a dentist. Anyone who plays contact sports, such as boxing, football, basketball, soccer, or lacrosse needs to always wear a mouth guard. Even heavy physical exertion offers an opportunity to fall down and chip a tooth, so while it may not require a mouth guard, be sure to take care and watch your step!
- Some people experience tooth pain when they wake up after sleeping for the night. If you are one of these, you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep. A visit to a doctor or dentist will reveal if your tooth damage is the result of grinding and your dentist can help you decide if wearing a mouth guard when you sleep is the best option.
You don’t have to avoid risky situations to avoid mouth injury. Just make sure to take the appropriate precautions before you go at it.
It is important to keep your teeth protected during physical activity because that is the most likely time they will suffer damage. Your teeth aren’t just there for your smile—a complete set of chompers is necessary to eat all the different kinds of foods we enjoy as well. April is National Facial Protection Month, and the American Dental Association is teaming up with the American Association of Orthodontists, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, and the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry to spread awareness about the importance of protecting your mouth in sports and other outdoor activities by using a mouth guard.
Sports Where Mouth and Facial Injuries are Most Likely
Here are a few sports where you commonly see players wearing mouth guards. This important teeth protection should be worn even during practice sessions with these intense physical activities.
- Boxing: Boxing is a sport where the participants will hit each other in their faces extensively, making it absolutely essential to wear a mouth guard in this sport.
- Football: Football players wear helmets that provide a firm layer of facial protection. As an added precautionary measure, they are also required to wear mouth guards under the grills of their helmets, preventing the possibility of painful and inconvenient tooth injuries.
- Martial Arts: The point in martial arts practice where mouth protection becomes necessary is in the sparring ring. Participants will often don padding over sensitive areas of their bodies. In Olympic sparring, the head is an area where a blow will score a point, making the face and mouth vulnerable to accidental injury.
While these are some sports where athletes commonly wear mouthguards, it’s important to note that any time you are playing a contact sport or participating in an activity that could lead to mouth injury, dentists recommend wearing mouth protection. That includes everything from soccer and basketball to riding a bike or skateboard.
Sporting goods stores sell semi-fitted mouth guards that you boil and bite to conform to the shape of your teeth, but an even better idea is to visit your dentist to get a custom guard made specifically for your mouth. Keeping your bite pristine is an important part of any athletic activity.
A Guide to Symptoms and Signs in Your Mouth
The term “oral cancer” is actually a broad term that covers several different types of cancers that might affect your lips, mouth, nose, larynx, and throat (the oral cavity). While these cancers don’t garner as much attention as breast cancer or lymphoma, they are still very dangerous.
The Oral Cancer Foundation reports that over 54,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral, larynx, or pharyngeal cancer this year, and only slightly more than half of those diagnosed will still be alive in five years—a number that has not significantly improved in the last few decades, even as survival rates increase for other cancers.
“Part of what makes oral cancer so dangerous is the difficulty in diagnosing the disease,” said Dr. Aaron Ferguson, Director of Public Health Sciences Education and Assistant Professor at Roseman University of Health Sciences’ College of Dental Medicine. “The symptoms might not produce pain or other obvious signs, or might mimic other conditions and thus go untreated and undiagnosed until the cancer has reached a more advanced stage.”
This is especially true for patients who don’t have a “dental home”, according to Ferguson. A dental home is a specific place where a patient routinely visits the same dentist. Often the visible signs of developing oral cancers can be identified by a dentist, but it is much easier for the dentist to notice changes if he or she has been seeing the patient over a long period of time. For patients who rarely or never visit the dentist, or frequently change dental care providers, these subtle changes are harder to spot.
In addition, a new virus called HPV16 has contributed to a rise in oral cancer cases that manifest in the back of the mouth and throat, and often don’t produce visible lesions or discoloration that dentists can readily identify as a warning sign.
How to Check for Oral Cancer
There are a few signs you can look for to identify oral cancers, and along with regular dental checkups and screenings these things can help you spot cancer earlier and get proper treatment. These signs include:
- Mouth sores that don’t heal
- Lumps or thick skin in the lips or soft tissue inside your mouth
- White or red patches on the inside of the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Changes to the way dentures fit
- Tongue, jaw, or throat pain
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing and chewing
- A lump or feeling of something caught in your throat
“If you notice any of these signs, call your dentist immediately,” advises Dr. Ferguson. If you don’t have a dentist you can visit the Dental Clinic at Roseman University in South Jordan for affordable, high quality care by Doctor of Dental Medicine students and faculty.
Lowering Your Risk for Oral Cancers
In addition to checking for oral cancer, there are things you can do to help lower your risk of developing the disease.
- Quit smoking and immediately stop using any type of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Eat a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
- Protect your lips with a lip balm that includes SPF whenever you are going to be out in the sun
- Get checked for the sexually transmitted virus human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Find a “dental home” and get regular checkups and screenings from your dentist, especially if you are over the age of 40 and have any other potential risk factors
Oral cancer treatments generally include a mix of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted drugs depending on the location and stage of the cancer, as well as your overall health.
While you may not be able to control all your risk factors, understanding the dangers of oral cancer and getting regular screenings can help you discover and diagnose it at an earlier stage, which often leads to better outcomes.
If you’re looking for ways to improve the health of your entire body, open your mouth and say “ahhhhhh.” Medical research has shown that individuals with gum disease have an increased risk of other health issues, such as heart disease and even cancer. Learn how bad oral health impacts the body and what you can do about it.
The True Impact of Gum Disease
Early signs of gum disease include swollen gums, chronic bad breath, gums that bleed while flossing and sensitive teeth. Your mouth acts as an internal interstate to the rest of your body, and the disease in your gums can use that interstate to spread to the rest of your system. Additional health complications that can result from gum disease include stroke, low birth weight in babies and other health complications. Now that you know the how, it’s time to learn more about the what, as in what you can do to reduce the harmful effects of poor oral health.
It All Starts in the Mouth
Besides keeping up with your oral hygiene, there are several additional things you can do to improve your overall physical health. One of the first things you should do is add more minerals and healthy fats to your diet. While you’re at it, you should ease up on foods with an abundance of sugar and vegetable oil.
To boost your immune system to fight off any disease you might already have and future disease, make sure you get plenty of sleep, handle your stress well and cut out bad lifestyle choices, such as smoking and excessive drinking.
Pay Attention to the Oral Products You Use
Using oral products won’t do you or your health much good if those products contain toxins that can counteract your preventative measures. Look at and research the ingredients in your toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum to make sure they’re as beneficial as their makers claim or talk to your dentist about what products s/he would recommend.
Take full control of your health, starting with your teeth and gums. Ask your dentist for more tips.