If you keep up with soccer (and even if you don’t), you know the name Cristiano Ronaldo. A professional “football” forward, Ronaldo is the captain of his native Portugal’s national team, plays for Real Madrid, and is regarded as one of, if not the best, soccer players in the world. Soccer is a full-body sport that even requires the use of a player’s head. So, are braces impossible for a professional athlete in this type of contact sport?

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The answer is no. Cristiano Ronaldo is a prime example of how any athlete, no matter the sport, can have braces and still play to the top of their game. In fact, having straight teeth actually improves an athlete’s game. As an experienced Miami-based orthodontist, I have learned that straight teeth can improve oxygen intake and airflow, and cranial and general posture, all of which are crucial to being at top physical condition when performing an athletic activity.

But what about injuries? Isn’t having a set of braces in your mouth dangerous when you’re out on the field or court? Sanders says no again. In fact, if you sustain an injury to your mouth or jaw while wearing braces, the chance of reattachment is much more likely because you already have a network of brackets and wires holding your teeth in place. But, you’ll still need to take safety precautions when wearing braces and playing a sport. This starts with the type of braces you select, which should compliment the sport you play and other aspects of your lifestyle. Lingual braces, or those attached to the back of the teeth, provide support with invisibility and will not lead to inner mouth or gum cuts if you’re met with an injury mid-game. Invisalign almost acts like a thin mouth guard, as they are a series of clear, removable, plastic aligners, which again could help you to avoid any lacerations inside the mouth. Finally, there are the traditional metal bracket braces, which do expose you to a slight risk of cuts and scrapes on your inner cheek, but are incredibly sturdy, which again would be valuable in the event of a major collision. Once you have done that, you can get a custom-fit mouthguard to cover your orthodontics and protect your new smile.

Speaking of a winning grin, having braces as an athlete can bring you as many benefits off the field as they do on the field. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, is seen as the “face” of European professional soccer. This may not be the case if he had not gotten braces in his younger days. His literal public image is as strong as he is on the field. With a winning smile like Ronaldo’s comes endorsement deals, advertisements, and franchise opportunities (for the team and the individual player), something that any serious athlete thinks about when pursuing a sport professionally. Taking care of yourself physically leads to better performance, and bigger opportunities in the arena and beyond, so don’t hesitate to straighten out your smile today.