In a sport like hockey, exciting, fast-paced action can quickly lead to injuries.
Getting banged up and bruised is not something unique to this sport, but there is one type of damage that is more common in hockey than most any other – losing your teeth.
The image of a gap-toothed, ice-skating goon is classic, solidifying hockey’s status as one of the toughest sports in the world. Watch this brief HBO report to see what we mean.
Yet, all this oral punishment comes at a price. After decades of players “toughing it out”, a new generation of players is striving to pay more attention to their dental health with state-of-the-art dental protection.
Tooth reinsertion in hockey players
With 82 games per season in the NHL, it isn’t hard to see why players stand to earn a gap or two in their uppers and lowers. One solution, in some circumstances, is immediate tooth re-insertion.
According to American Academy of Implant Dentistry president Joseph Orrico, if a tooth should be knocked out during a game, it can be placed in a cold container of milk for preservation, and a dental professional can then surgically reinsert it, provided the procedure can be done within thirty minutes or so of the accident. That is why NHL teams usually have a dentist standing by during games in order to provide the quickest possible treatment.
As noted by Orrico, “there’s a short window of opportunity in which the remaining living tissue on the root surface can be kept alive. Milk has a neutral pH balance and is fortified with vitamins to make it an excellent medium for helping preserve teeth.”
This technique is only applicable if the tooth, including the root, is completely knocked out. In cases where the tooth is broken above the gum line, the Academy suggests a root canal, accompanied by a crown, to ensure the tooth structure is maintained.
Dental implants of the removable kind
Fractures below the gum line tend to result in an extraction of tooth fragments and the insertion of dental implants. Age plays a role in this decision, as gradual bone loss can be a more important factor depending on how old a patient is.
Orrico says that now, the use of implants, which are artificial titanium tooth roots, could be a major benefit to young hockey players trying to protect their mouths.
Check out this news report from Spectrum/TimeWarner Cable News
As opposed to an unsecured prosthetic (dentures) Orrico believes that an implant-secured prosthesis is the way to go, due to its ability to preserve the health of the jawbone over time.
The prosthesis used by hockey players are actually removable, and can be taken out or put in before and after games, giving players flexibility, and reducing the chances of damage to the implant itself.
A change of habits
For the NFL, all the dental technology in the world can’t alter player attitudes overnight. However, a concentrated effort, starting at the youth level of play, can help future generations be smarter about protecting their dental health.
As noted in an article from the New York Times, mouth guards are now required to play in any level of amateur hockey. By the time young players go pro, their teeth will be looking better than those of the hard-nosed generations who came before them.
The NHL has a dentist’s association, which meets annually at the All-Star Game to discuss topics such as creating safer mouth guards and face masks, something that would have seemed unlikely just thirty years ago.
Despite notable advancements, the mindset of “toughing it out” at the cost of one’s teeth is still alive and well. While other physical ailments will result in taking the night off, hockey players often do not sit one out over a lost tooth. Some players even view losing teeth as a rite of passage, displaying them on their desks, or marking notches to keep count.
It comes as no surprise that players such as Brent Burns, one of the best defensemen in the game today, doesn’t even bring his removable implants with him on road trips. This is unfortunate because the use of implants can actually protect the positioning and stability of the player’s real teeth. Failure to wear the them can have negative long-term effects, including the collapse of gum tissue, causing remaining teeth to become unstable.
For anyone missing some teeth, it is strongly advised to speak to your dentist about using implants or other prosthetic method, if just for the sake of healthier teeth and gums.
Written by Bryan Armetta
Edited by Clifford Yurman