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Recent research has shown that playing sports can have a shocking impact on a child's teeth. What do you need to know and be careful about as a parent? Read on to find out.

Children grow up playing sports, taking knocks and bumps along the way, and tumbling their way to adulthood. This has always been true, and is unlikely to ever change. Though sports can be risky, the fact that they also offer a myriad of mental and physical health benefits makes it all worthwhile. 

Recently, though, research has started to explore the potential harm that physically-demanding sports can cause. February marks National Children's Dental Health Month in the United States, and that makes right about now the perfect time for parents to review the potential health damage of the sports their children play — including, very much, the tremendous impact atheletic endeavors can have on the teeth. 

Information about CTE caused by sports such as American Football, boxing, and even wrestling has made parents more aware of the serious damage that sports can cause. In the short term, injuries to the teeth and problems with dental health can be traumatizing to children and a financial burden to parents.

Here are some dental considerations to keep in mind while choosing a sport for your child — and some points to remember if your child is already playing one.

Children playing contact sports need mouth guards

We are not here to tell you to avoid contact sports altogether for your children. Every parent has his or her take on things, and we don’t judge. Contact sports are, however, undeniably associated with a higher risk of injuries to the teeth. 

Most schools or coaching academies have become very good about insisting on helmets and mouth guards for their children nowadays.

Standard mouth guards are available at sporting goods stores, but we would not advise the use of those for children. Parents must consider investing in a customized, dentist-made, mouth guard for their children. Not only are customized mouth guards more comfortable, they are also more effective at protecting the teeth from being knocked out or fractured.

Sports drinks are harmful to the teeth

It is very common to see student-athletes chugging sports drinks on the sidelines of their games to try and stay hydrated. There is conclusive research showing the harm that these drinks can do to the teeth — which includes wearing away enamel, making the teeth more vulnerable to decay, increasing acid levels in the mouth, and creating an environment in which harmful micro-organisms thrive.

Water is more than enough to provide the needed hydration to children.

Dehydration affects teeth too

We are not suggesting that dehydration should be taken lightly just because we don’t advocate the use of sports drinks on a regular basis. If your child tends to sweat a lot or you live in a warm and humid climate, the risk of dehydration from prolonged physical activity is quite serious. Dehydration can have many serious repercussions, but from a dental point of view, a dry mouth and a decreased amount of salivation are the more immediate things to worry about.

Saliva is responsible for protecting the teeth by maintaining a healthy pH level, providing the immune cells needed to fight the growth of harmful bacteria, and offering calcium/phosphorous ions to remineralize the teeth.

Drinking adequate amounts of water during and after sports is going to prevent dehydration, which also stops dental problems from accelerating. If there is some concern about the depletion of salt, glucose, or potassium in the body, that can be dealt with in a simple manner as well.

Avoid sports gels or sport-bars for quick energy boosts

Anything that promises nutrition and comes out of a tube in a pretty awful-tasting gel form must be looked at suspiciously. Most, if not all, of these quick energy-boost products come with sugar-laden ingredients that are terrible for the teeth. They are also pretty sticky and tend to stay on the teeth's surface for a longer time. This allows harmful, decay-causing, micro-organisms in the mouth to use the sugar as a substrate and produce tooth-destroying acid. A banana is something that is nutritious, healthy and provides an instant boost of nutrition to the body.  

Prevention is much easier than cure

We would like to end this article with one of the oldest clichés, which you've surely already heard a zillion times. The thing about clichés, though, is that they often come from a strong place of truth. Dental emergencies like those that can occur during sports can be very expensive to treat.

They also will cause an interruption to your child’s sports season and could make him or her hesitant about getting back into the thick of things again. A student-athlete who struggles with tooth pain is not going to be able to perform at the highest level possible.

This is why parents must understand the value of preventing dental problems that can affect children playing sports more commonly. Meet your dentist, get a customized mouth guard, maybe a fluoride treatment if recommended, and follow some simple instructions to not have to worry about your child’s teeth at all.