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Mouthguards can prevent injuries in all kinds of sports

April 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Thirty million children take part in sports each year. Almost a million of them will end up in the emergency room with a jaw or face injury. But a tiny piece of equipment could save thousands of them time, trouble and expense.

On Christmas Eve, a friendly game of basketball turned ugly. Emin Khachikyan, 27, was going for a rebound when he was hit in the jaw.

"Another guy got the ball and I was right under him. He didn't even notice me. He came down with his elbow, hit my jaw. Little did I know, I had a broken jaw," said Khachikyan.

An X-ray showed where Khachikyan's jaw cracked. One of his molars also came out of its socket.

"My mouth wouldn't shut, because that tooth was all the way up and all the way out of its place," said Khachikyan.

Dr. Armond Kotikian, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, wired Khachikyan's jaw shut to help his bone and muscle realign and heal. He couldn't chew food for six months and lost about 20 pounds.

Every year, about five million teeth are knocked out due to sports-related injuries, according to doctors. Kotikian said many of the injuries could be prevented if athletes of all ages wore mouthguards.

"They act as shock absorbers. They prevent fractures in the jaw, prevent teeth from being fractured, even prevent lip lacerations, which are very common," said Kotikian.

It's obvious you'll need a mouthguard in contact sports such as basketball, soccer, football and hockey, but there are other sports where a mouthguard could really save your teeth. Those sports include rollerblading, skateboarding and gymnastics.

"In gymnastics, while you're doing all of those maneuvers, you can land on your jaw or bump into someone and sustain injuries," said Kotikian.

You can buy inexpensive generic mouthguards at most sporting goods stores. Some can be boiled and molded to your teeth. Kotikian said the best protection is a custom-shaped one made at your dentist's office, but that can cost hundreds of dollars. Khachikyan said that from now on he's not getting on the court without one.

"If I had known then what I know now the consequences of not wearing a mouthguard, I would definitely wear a mouthguard," he said.


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