With the new school year starting also comes the beginning of after-school sports. If your child has just begun playing on a school team, then he or she is in for a lot of great fun and exercise but also the possibility of injury. Mouth guards protect your child's teeth from injury, and here are some mouth-guard guidelines to follow to minimize your child's risk of dental injury when engaging in his or her new sport. 

Have Your Child Wear a Mouth Guard Whether Mandatory or Not

A recent study actually found that seven out of 10 parents with children who play school sports allow their children to skip these important pieces of safety equipment. This is likely because they think that if the school doesn't require that a mouth guard be worn, then it is not important. Schools often make the use of mouth guards mandatory in only some sports. Typically this includes only football and hockey. The truth is that there is a risk of dental injury when playing any sport, and you should have your child wear a mouth guard no matter what sport he or she is participating in.

In fact, the three sports that cause the greatest number of dental injuries are basketball, hockey, and bike-riding. Basketball players are at 13 times greater risk of facial injury than football players, so make sure your little basketball player begins wearing a mouth guard as soon as they begin practicing. There is also a high potential for oral injury in other sports, such as volleyball and baseball where balls hit high speed when playing. All it takes is one ball to hit your child in the face and teeth can be knocked out or chipped. 

Don't forget that much of your child's sports-playing time will be in practice at school and with friends, so make sure your child wears their mouth guard at practice as well as during official games. Also, now that you know how common oral injuries are when falling from a bicycle, it is also a good idea to have your child wear a guard when riding bicycles with friends after school. 

Mouth Guard Choice and Maintenance

It is important to choose a mouth guard that fits your child's mouth well. The safest mouth guards are those that are custom-fitted to your child's mouth by your dentist. However, if you cannot afford a new custom-fitted mouth guard every time your child needs a replacement, which is about every two weeks, then mouth guards that you form to your child's mouth at home are the second best option. They require just a quick heating in boiling water, and they can then be shaped right in your child's mouth. 

Experts also urge parents to sanitize their child's mouth guards after every single wear and switch to a new mouth guard every two weeks. This is important because while minimizing the risk of serious injuries, children who wear mouth guards may be more prone to small nicks and scrapes in their mouths that can become infected by a dirty mouth guard easily.

When sanitizing daily, first clean the guard by brushing it thoroughly with a toothbrush and paste. Then, soak it in a solution of either 1-part bleach to 10-parts water or half white vinegar and half water for about an hour. After soaking, rinse the mouth guard thoroughly, then store it in a ventilated case until it is used again.

If you see any signs of damage before two weeks of wear, replace the mouth guard immediately. It is best to keep a few new mouth guards on hand at all times, so you have one handy when your child needs a fresh one.

Any time your child is playing a sport, he or she should be wearing a mouth guard, whether the school requires it or not. You may even inspire other parents to have their little players wear mouth guards to protect their children's teeth, as well. For more information on how to protect your child's teeth while they play sports, talk to your child's pediatric dentist.