When it comes to orthodontic treatment for athletes, they and their parents often bring two concerns to the table. Parents worry their child will sustain additional injury while wearing braces during contact sports, while athletes’ main concerns tend to be whether braces will interfere with their ability to perform. I’ll address both questions below.
Will braces inhibit with my ability to perform as an athlete?
No, but they can improve it. Are you familiar with the term musculoskeletal? It refers to the system of tendons, muscles, bones and associated tissues that work in harmony to provide our bodies with form and mobility. Your teeth are bones, which, while small, play a critical role in musculoskeletal function. We use orthodontic treatment to properly align your teeth and manipulate jaw growth when necessary to achieve optimal size and position. Doing so can improve oxygen and air flow, cranial balance and even postural balance. I can’t imagine there are many –if any- athletes who would argue that improved breathing and balance interfere with their competitiveness.
If my word isn’t enough, why not consider some hard evidence that proves orthodontic treatment is athlete-approved?
You may recognize the following famous faces and smiles:
That’s Tom Daley, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the men’s 10-meter platform diving event. As you can see in his pictures, he was winning medals while he was still wearing metal- metal braces, that is.
Dwight Howard wore braces when he played basketball in high school. It not only got him a sweet smile, but I like to think it helped earn him a sweet deal with the Orlando Magic, too. Howard now plays for the Houston Rockets and is known for always playing basketball with a smile. With straight teeth like his, who could blame him?
Cristiano Ronaldo plays forward for Real Madrid and serves as captain of Portugal’s national football team. Braces worked wonders in improving his smile, and they don’t seem to have hurt his game either.
Wearing braces sure didn’t inhibit Missy Franklin’s chances of earning Olympic gold. The star swimmer holds the world record in the 200-meter backstroke.
Now for the number one parental concern:
Will my child sustain additional injuries because she is wearing braces during sports?
No. When proper precaution is taken, your child’s mouth is at no greater risk for injury than that of someone not wearing braces. In fact, your child’s teeth may actually be safer. If your child sustains a blow to the face that knocks her teeth loose while she is wearing braces, there is a greater chance for successful reattachment since the brackets and archwires add stabilization.
Braces come in a vast array of shapes, sizes and materials. When intact and uncompromised, braces should not cause any harm to the sensitive tissue of the mouth. However, a stiff blow to the face – common in contact sports- could force the appliances into the oral tissue and cause a laceration inside the mouth. This is easily avoided if the patient is wearing a mouthguard.
Precaution 1: Wear a mouthguard
Mouthguards should be worn by all athletes – regardless of whether they are going through orthodontic treatment. Mouthguards have the following benefits:
- Protect oral tissue- It’s nice to have a shock-absorbing barrier between sensitive oral tissue and metal or ceramic braces when you get hit in the mouth.
- Protect teeth- Mouthguards help keep your teeth in place when you catch a ball with your face and not your hands.
- Prevent grinding and biting- Sports can be intense, and intense situations sometimes cause us to clench and grind our teeth. Mouthguards prevent damage during these trying times.
- Potentially prevent concussions – While there is a lack of scientific evidence proving mouthguards prevent concussions, some experts still believe they do, and cite their ability to absorb the force the brain and neck experience during high impact situations.
I always encourage patients to acquire a custom-fitted mouthguard from their orthodontist. This way we can make sure it properly protects the teeth and orthodontic appliances without interfering with speech and breathing. The mouthguard will also need to be periodically checked for proper fit, since the patient’s teeth continuously shift during orthodontic treatment. A mouthguard that is never adjusted has the potential to work against braces and prolong treatment.
Mouthguards need to be replaced occasionally. Remember: your children continue to grow even while in orthodontic treatment. Many times, I use that growth to my benefit as we work to achieve optimum bite and alignment. Last year’s mouthguard may not fit if your child has experienced a growth spurt. We offer complimentary mouthguard fit checks, so when in doubt, let us inspect the appliance for proper fit.
Precaution 2: Choose a sport- and lifestyle-appropriate type of orthodontic treatment
Braces come in many styles, and different styles have varying attributes that may suit some patients better than others.
Lingual braces feature brackets that are cemented to the back of the teeth. Because of the brackets’ location, they are invisible to others. Additionally, pressure or a light blow to your child’s face will not result in the metal brackets or wires damaging her lips or cheeks.
Invisalign Teen is a system of clear aligners used to gradually straighten teeth. These aligners are similar in appearance to a mouthguard, but much thinner. Athletes and their orthodontists often prefer this all-plastic system because its metal-free design means there are no brackets or wires to become dislodged or cut mouths. But beware: if you have an irresponsible or overcommitted athlete, the system doesn’t work when the aligners aren’t worn as directed. Invisalign Teen must be worn for 22 hours per day to effectively move teeth.
Traditional metal braces may not be the most attractive of styles, but they are still a top choice among athletes because they are sturdy and can be customized with elastics in their team or school colors. Metal braces pose the biggest threat in lacerations to the mouth, but that’s only when the athlete doesn’t wear a proper fitting mouthguard.
A love of sports shouldn’t stop you or a loved one from improving your smile. Call today and book a free initial consultation so you can explore your options with us.