Dentist Leo O'Hara describes the role GDP's can play in protecting those playing sport from dental harm.
Sports dentistry is the study of the interface between a variety of sports and the effect they have on the head and neck region. These may be team sports involving a group of people with similar potential problems and needs, or individuals whose needs may be quite specific.
As sport usually involves movement, there is always the potential for things not to go as planned, resulting in trauma. Often this trauma is to the head and neck area, especially the tissues of the mouth. Accelerating into immovable objects or another individual, teeth first, does not end well. So a large part of sports dentistry is trying to prevent damage from these incidents and, when they inevitably occur, effectively repairing the resulting damage.
Quality of life
The repair process needs to consider short, medium and long-term solutions, as the trauma usually life-long effects on the individual's dentition. A study of Traumatic Dental Injury (TDI)1, concludes that if the damage cause to the dentition is not properly treated or not treated at all, there is a negative effect on the quality of life for that individual, with reduced job opportunities, up to 20 times that of the average.
The damage may be a simply enamel fracture or avulsion of one or more teeth, with or without alveolar fracture, meaning that a variety of skills and knowledge is required to best help the patient. This may require specialist referral in some cases, depending on the treating dentist's clinical skills and the stage of the repair.
Reducing and/or preventing the damage caused by TDI in sport is something all general dental practitioners can help with, by offering to supply well-fitting mouth guards and gum shields at an early stage in a child's sporting career, continuing into later life as they grow. Participants who do not wear a mouth guard are seven times more likely to have an avulsed tooth, five times more likely to get a tooth fracture and three times more likely to get a concussion, when playing contact sports or being involved in a traumatic incident.
Another important effect on oral health relates to the diet and training regimes adopted by sportsmen and sportswomen. 'Sports' drinks, high in sugar and acid, produce an increase in erosion and decay. This, linked to a dry mouth following exercise, can cause considerable damage to a previously healthy mouth in a relatively short space of time. Education by the GDP can help prevent this damage. Sports dentistry looks to advise on alternative drinks and supplements that are not so damaging, but still have the benefits the athletes are looking for.
As dentists, we can all have a role in sports dentistry, offering advice on prevention and protection to individuals and families. As a spectator or as a parent watching our children's sporting events, we can also offer first aid, advice and education. At a higher level, we can be advisors to sports clubs, professional or amateur, and to sports bodies to help reduce the negative impact that some aspects of sport can cause to oral health.
Post written by Leo O'Hara, Principal Dentist at Nelson Street Dental, Stroud
1. Australian Dental Journal: Epidemiology and outcomes of traumatic dental injuries: a review of the literature. R Lam 29 February 2016.