Professional football players and dentists came together at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and at its Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in April to promote National Facial Protection Month, educating practitioners and young athletes alike about injuries and how they can be avoided simply by wearing the right gear.
“Recent estimates suggest that nearly 5 million teeth are injured or lost in children and adolescents in the United States every year,” said university dean and professor Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD. He also noted that many of these injuries occur among the nation’s 30 million student-athletes.
Guest speaker and alumnus Michael Wright, DDS, MS, has developed a patented technique of making magnetic-tethered mouthguards designed to provide a better fit. Wright was joined by Vernon Davis, A. J. Francis, and Kendall Fuller of the Washington Redskins, who all wear mouthguards that he designed. They all spoke to 35 seventh-grade boys from the Green Street Academy in Baltimore about the importance of good oral health.
Most of the boys raised their hands to say that they played youth football, though some also said they participated in soccer, basketball, and track. And while mouth-guard rules vary by sport, the speakers encouraged the students to avoid injuries to the face and head, which can include concussion.
According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, custom-fitted mouthguards made by a dentist are better than stock devices or boil-and-bite mouthguards at preventing injuries. The university also notes that dental injuries are the most common type of facial injuries, and half of them can be prevented. Plus, 60% of them occur during sports practices.
“I think this is a great event to have these athletes come out and speak to these children,” said Greg McClure, DMD, MPG, director of the Office of Oral Health at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who added that by tying the importance of oral health to the students’ activities, they will “place that as a priority in their lives, not just now but throughout their entire lives.”
The students received gift bags that included the department’s brochure, “How to Protect Your Child’s Teeth,” as well as a free mouthguard from Wright’s company, the Wright Guard. Meanwhile, Wright and the football players also spoke to a group of dental students about injury repairs and mouthguards, drawing on Wright’s experience as a prosthodontist.
“I was here for the expert, but it was nice seeing the patients and hearing their perspective,” said Stephen Cross of the Class of 2017. “To hear professional football players tell you that something as simple as a mouthguard can change their ability to play the game is mind-blowing.”
“I listened not only to my mother and father but also listened to people like Dr. Wright. He made it possible for me to go on in this game of football and continue to take care of myself,” said Davis, a tight end with the Redskins, adding that it’s no small feat to come out of the game healthy. “This game is so hard. It’s a game of inches.”
Students and players alike toured the museum and viewed a display on the history of mouthguards as well. It features protective face gear from the past, including a combination nose and mouth protector from the 1890s when broken noses were common among football players. Also, a mouthguard from the 2000 Summer Olympics bears the games’ rings logo.
Mouthguards May Improve Athletic Performance in Addition to Protecting Teeth