Article Written By: Kari Taunton
Dental Assistant to Dr. Craig

It’s that time again: Gilmer Bobcat’s football season! While our boys are running field goals, tackling, and catching that ball every week, we (as parents) are ensuring that the uniform, helmet, cleats, and pads are clean and game-ready. We then have to check schedules for practices, scrimmages, games, field locations, game start times, and athlete arrival times. While we’re busy with all of these preparations, there is one small detail that is usually forgotten: our athletes’ mouth guards. Despite the fact that mouth guards are important protective equipment, our athletes often pay little attention to their care and sanitation. Mouth guard care is something that seems inconsequential when compared to everything else we take care of during the sports season; however, neglecting it can have major consequences. According to a 2011 study at Oklahoma State University, an athletic mouth guard can carry up to 485 microbial isolates. The findings of this study proved that mouth guards harbor a range of pathogenic and opportunistic bacteria, yeasts, and molds. The microbes found on mouth guards “are sufficient to warrant genuine concern,” says Richard T. Glass, Ph D, DDS, lead author of the study at the Oklahoma Sate University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. Staph bacteria found on mouth guards can not only cause skin infections, but are also associated with heart problems (endocarditis, pericarditis), pneumonia, osteomyelitis, and food intoxication. Other species of bacteria and fungi found on football and hockey mouth guards are associated with many diseases, including meningitis, urinary tract infections, peritonitis, gum disease, wound infections, and exercise-induced asthma.
Additionally, using mouth guards that are old or over-used can increase chances of disease transmission. This occurs because the worn and rough areas of the mouth guard are closer to the veins in the mouth, facilitating an easy transfer of these microbes and pathogens into the blood stream and circulatory system.
To reduce the of risk infection and maintain your young athlete’s oral health, we offer these simple tips:
1. Replace mouth guards regularly, or as soon as the mouth piece becomes jagged or torn. 2. Mouth guards should be replaced whenever an athlete develops any type of oral lesion (mouth sore) or respiratory distress. 3. Sanitize daily; because mouth guards naturally become a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and mold, they should also be soaked between uses. You can use Listerine or any alcohol-based mouthwash for this; it will kill the bacteria on the mouth guard between uses. 4. During the sports season, athletes should have routine oral exams performed by their dental provider. 5. Make sure your athlete keeps the mouth piece in his/her mouth during the entire game or practice. Though it may be more convenient to let the guard hang from the helmet between plays, the repeated air exposure increases the amount of bacteria that can attach to it.
Football is loads of fun for athletes AND parents, so let’s keep it that way. Have a great football season, and good luck to all our athletes! Go Gilmer Bobcats!!!!