Every year in the United States, sporting activities result in over 5 million tooth avulsions – that is to say, when a tooth is completed knocked loose from its socket.
It’s not easy to obtain hard-and-fast statistics on dental injuries as a result of sports. Many studies say the injury rate is as high as 80% for regular sport participants, while others claim it rarely happens.
Sports most likely to cause dental damage are boxing, martial arts, basketball, football, and hockey.
Common sense dictates that contact sports are the most likely to result in shattered teeth, but the potential is there in non-contact sports as well.
Damaged teeth aren’t the only dental problems that sports can cause; soft tissue lacerations are also commonplace.
The Most Common Sports-related Dental Injuries
These come in differing levels of severity, but as anyone who’s experienced even a minor tooth fracture can tell you, it’s not fun.
Tooth fractures usually occur in contact sports where it’s expected – or at least not surprising – that a player is going to take some shots to the face (either from another player’s fists or feet, or from a stray ball or hockey puck).
Mild Tooth Fractures: These usually involve damage to the enamel – the protective outer layer of the tooth – resulting in what many dentists call “craze lines”. These are vertical lines in the tooth enamel; they’re usually regarded as a superficial problem with low dental health risk.
Severe Tooth Fractures (cracked teeth): When you get one of these, you’ll probably know it. A crack usually begins at the crown and reaches downward into the tooth. This damages the enamel, dentin (the hard, bony part of the tooth), and the tooth pulp (as the name implies, this is the soft, fleshy core that contains the tooth nerve).
Dental restoration for a tooth fracture usually involves a dental crown.
If hit at just the right angle, a tooth fracture can begin in the root underneath the gums, which can then extend upward towards the crown.
There is likely going to be a good deal of pain associated with this, but many people don’t realize they have a dental fracture until the damage moves upward into the crown or until an infection takes hold.
Infections near the tooth root are usually called dental abscesses – inflamed pockets of pus that resemble a pimple, usually appearing on the gumline.
In the case of root fractures, the most common dental procedure is the removal of the tooth, which can then be replaced with an implant.
This is a rare dental injury, which is fortunate because the details aren’t pretty.
Rather than a tooth getting knocked loose from its socket, a dental intrusion occurs when the tooth is forced down into the jawbone.
Typical problems occurring from dental intrusion are:
Damage of the tooth pulp.
Root resorption (when the roots begin to shorten)
Ankylosis (when the injured tooth’s root fuses to the alveolar bone)
In many cases, if left to heal on its own, the tooth will begin to reposition itself. However, in more severe cases, orthodontic repositioning, as well as root canal therapy, may be required.
There are really only two ways of preventing sports-related dental injuries: don’t play, or wear a mouthguard.
So, how effective are mouthguards, really?
Dental injuries are roughly 1.6 to 1.9 times higher if you don’t wear one.
Even if injury occurs while wearing a mouthguard, the damage is usually less (and therefore, so is the cost of treatment).
The NCAA requires mouthguards in many sports, including lacrosse and hockey.
Basketball and baseball players see higher rates of dental trauma – these are also sports in which players rarely use mouthguards.