If you play football, soccer, hockey, or any other contact sport, you know that the attitude surrounding these high-intensity activities has changed in recent years. In football, specifically, protection has become the priority.
Today, athletic trainers want to make sure that their athletes are adequately protected, and that the delicate areas of the face and head remain safe during intense bouts of play. While this shifting mindset does quite a lot to protect players on its own, there are still steps that you can take to protect your head and face while playing sports. In addition to cutting down on unsightly black eyes and bruises, this approach will also help keep your teeth, mouth, and dental arch safe.
Here’s what you need to know:
Injuries to the Head and Face During High-Impact Sports
In high-impact sports, injuries to the head and face are common. These injuries range from concussions to bruises to lacerations and broken noses. Eye and teeth injuries are also common. While there is no way to rule out these injuries entirely, proper protection, whether mandatory or not, can go a long way toward mitigating them.
If you participate in sports that use a small ball, such as baseball, softball, lacrosse, field hockey, and tennis, you probably already know that these sports put you at increased risk of head and face injuries. This risk owes to the high velocity of the ball and the rapid pace of the sport. To protect yourself, it pays to be continually aware of your surroundings and to wear protective gear that will help reduce the risk of getting injured in the line of play.
Protective Gear to Wear During Sports
Here’s a list of some of the protective equipment that athletes should be wearing during any high-impact sport:
Helmets. Helmets are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting the head and face during high-impact sports. Mandatory in most high school sports, such as football, ice hockey, softball, lacrosse, and baseball, helmets are designed to prevent skull fractures, reduce the risk of concussions, and, in the case of full-face helmets, provide some protection for the orbital bones, teeth, and jaw. To do their jobs correctly, helmets must fit properly. As a general rule, they should not be so tight as to cause a headache, but should not be loose enough that they can be lifted off the head, or pushed backwards.
Facemasks. Face masks work in conjunction with helmets. Required in sports like high school hockey, men’s lacrosse, and football, helmets may also be necessary for softball and some sports. Hockey and lacrosse face masks work to protect the eyes and jaw from impact. In football, a face mask extends across the brow bones and around the jaw, to protect the facial bones and teeth. An interesting but little-known fact is that different football positions require different types of face masks to offer different kinds of protection. For example, a lineman on a football team will have a more closed cage on his face mask then that of a quarterback or receiver.
- Goggles. Although goggles aren’t designed to protect your teeth, they are an essential part of your overall protective gear. Goggles are specifically helpful in small bat sports, such as Racquetball and tennis. When worn correctly, protective goggles guard your eyes and the bones surrounding them. If you play basketball or football and have had a previous eye injury, goggles can also help prevent it from being injured further, and give you the protection you need to play confidently.
- Ear Protection. While most people don’t think about the ears when it comes to face protection, the ears are some of the most delicate and vulnerable parts of the face. In sports like wrestling and water polo, ear protection is required. This is important, seeing as ear injuries can easily create Oral & Maxillofacial pain down the road.
- Mouth & Throat Protection. Talk to your dentist, and he or she will tell you that this is one of the most essential types of face protection you can wear. And for a good reason! Fitted mouthguards protect your teeth, dental arch, tongue, and surrounding tissues from impacts, abrasions, and cuts during high impact sports. Today, fitted mouthguards are required in high school field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, and football. Mouth guards are inexpensive, effective, and easy to wear, which makes them a no-brainer when it comes to protecting your face and teeth. Throat guards take this protection to the next level and are required by some schools for high school hockey goalies, as well as some catchers in baseball and softball.
Protecting the Teeth During Sports
Did you know that approximately 39% of all dental injuries are related to sports injuries around the face or head? With a statistic like that in mind, it’s clear that protecting the teeth during high-impact sports is essential.
Sports like football, hockey, basketball, and other contact sports are common causes of concussions, tooth injuries, and more. While it may seem that these injuries are minimal, the truth is that they can cause long-lasting repercussions. Dental injuries typically take the form of chips and brakes, dislodged or knocked out teeth, and fractures, that can cause discomfort and pain for years down the road.
What to do if You Suffer a Head or Face Injury
Even if you take all precautions while playing a high-impact sport, face and head injuries are always a possibility. Here’s what to do if you suffer one of them while playing your favorite sport.
- Stop playing immediately. This is possibly the most important tip to ensure healing and reduce the risk of further injury. If you continue to play after taking a hard hit or suffering an injury, you run the risk of making the injury worse or creating a situation that is harder to repair down the road. Instead, stop playing, remove yourself from the field, and assess the situation.
- Deal with immediate needs. If there is bleeding, bruising, or pain, take some time now to deal with those things before you head to the doctor. Check out our recent post on how to deal with dental emergencies if the injury or suffering has to do with your teeth. In all other situations, use basic first aid skills to stop bleeding or resolve pain before you can seek help.
- See your doctor or dentist. The next step is to make an appointment with a specialist. If it’s a head injury you’re suffering, make an appointment with your doctor. For tooth and mouth injuries, get into your dentist as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that some headaches and pains are caused by dental injuries, which may be underlying or hard to diagnose. With this in mind consider seeing a dentist even if your injuries seem to have more to do with your head.
Staying Safe During High-Impact Sports
Just because there’s a risk of harm associated with High Impact Sports does not mean you have to stop playing. Instead, take these steps to keep yourself safe, and protect the Integrity of your mouth, face, and teeth while you play your favorite sports.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.