It seemed so simple at first. While the MYSA hadn’t had any serious dental injuries (knock on wood…), we figured it would be a good idea to have the kids start wearing mouthguards. A number of kids already had them and better to be prepared than not. During our organizational meetings for the Fall 2005 season the coaches discussed requiring mouthguards for U8 and above since that was the age when they started to get adult teeth. We agreed to mandate them for the upcoming season, but then started to look into it deeper and discovered what seemed on the surface like a simple decision, wasn’t.
First, if you mandate something, it has to be obtained. With 500 families involved we knew if we mandated these, some families wouldn’t get them. So we decided to provide them for each player to avoid opening day hassles with kids lacking them. You can buy mouthguards for about 25 cents each so it wasn’t a huge expense. We were able to buy enough mouthguards for all our kids in U8 on up for about $100. Easy enough.
Then someone brought up the ‘mandate’ part. By mandate what exactly did we mean? If a kid was on the pitch playing without a mouthguard, would the referee stop play? What would the penalty be? A warning? After much debate, we finally decided that we would require them during the pre match equipment check. But if a kid forgot to put it in during the match, the ref would not stop play and would warn the player and coach during a stoppage of play. OK – still not too bad.
Typical mouthguards you buy in a sporting goods store are one size fits all. You put the guard in boiling water for 30 seconds, dip it in cold water for a sec, then insert it in your child’s mouth. The instructions say you should push it as far back as possible towards the front teeth then the child should suck in inward, bite down, and press against it with their tongue. Lets just say its not a simple process to get a good fit. Also, one size fits all means for younger kids, you have to trim the mouthguard ends. Well, most parents (me included) made a straight cut with scissors. This resulted in a sharp upper corner on each end which cut into the gums of some kids causing them to bleed slightly. We learned that the trim cut should be at an angle to eliminate the upper corner. Also, we discovered that if you hadn’t gotten the guard pushed all the way back as it firmed up, the upper part of the guard curved backwards and during play that pushed against the upper gum uncomfortably. Top that off – parents whose kids had braces reported that the dentists were discouraging the use of these type of mouthguards for kids with orthodontia. The good news is most kids with braces also had custom fitted mouthguards from their dentist.
You have to hand it to the kids though. Many coaches were concerned what the kids would do with the guards on the sideline when they were not playing. Most coaches have big water coolers with the cone paper cups on the sideline. Well, the kids would get a drink of water, refill the cup, and toss their guard into the water until it was needed. Worked well. A number of parents also found very inexpensive vinyl mouthguard holders that the kids could use in place of sandwich baggies! We’re spreading the word about those.
Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t a total mess, but it was a learning experience. We’ve sent out hints to parents for refitting the guards and trimming the sharp corners. I expect things to go better during the next set of matches and we’ve got some good info for the next group of kids getting mouthguards. But who would have thought such a simple decision would be so complex in the end.