Sports and mouth guards

Keep your young soccer stars safe

If your children play soccer, as millions of other kids do nationwide, then you need the latest tips on keeping them safe on the field. Mouth guards, for example, can reduce the risk for orofacial and dental injuries.

Each year, emergency rooms treat nearly 80,000 children between 5 and 24 years of age for soccer-related injuries, according to federal government statistics. A new study conducted by The American Journal of Sports Medicine tracked nearly 1.6 million soccer injuries among children 2 to 18 years of age in a 13-year period, using emergency room reports around the country. The most common injuries among girls were sprained ankles, knee injuries, scrapes, bruises, and fractures. Boys, on the other hand, were more likely to have face, head, and neck injuries.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a significant number of these injuries could be prevented if parents, athletes, and soccer organizations employed the following safety measures.

Mouth guards and eye protection are a must

Soccer is the second leading cause of orofacial and dental injuries in sports, preceded only by basketball. All players should wear form-fitted mouth guards and safety goggles.  (If they wear glasses, they should be shatter-proof.)

The American Dental Association recommends mouth guards for any recreational activity that poses a mouth injury risk. Blows to the face in nearly every sport can injure your teeth, lips, cheeks, and gums.

There are three types of mouth guards: the ready-made or stock mouth guard, the “boil and bite” mouth guard, and the custom-made mouth guard made by your dentist. All three mouth guards provide protection, but vary in cost and comfort. The most effective mouth guard should be resilient, tear-resistant, and most of all, comfortable. It should also not impair speech or breathing. Your dentist should be able to recommend which type of mouth guard would best suit your child.

Additional safety tips

Players must wear shin guards

Most injuries are to the soft tissue and occur most often in the lower extremities. For this reason, shin guards should be worn at all times. For the best protection, shin guards should cover the entire shin, have a strap for children to fasten under their feet, and have a plastic outside cover.

Goalies should wear gloves and elbow and knee pads

Gloves should be made of a durable material, such as leather. They should have a Velcro strap around the wrist to prevent them from sliding around on the hand.

Shoes should have molded cleats or a ribbed sole

Screw-in plastic cleats should be worn only on wet or long grass. Both metal and plastic cleats can cut another player’s skin during a kick.

The right ball can prevent head injuries

Leather balls can become heavy when wet. Use synthetic, nonabsorbent balls on wet fields.

Goal should be safe

Soccer goals should be anchored to the ground, using anchors flush with the ground and clearly visible. Never use net pegs as anchors. Goalposts and crossbars should ideally have four inches of padding.

Don’t let anyone crawl or sit on goals or hang from nets. Collapsing goals have killed players and small children.

Surface should be smooth

The playing surface should have all holes filled in, bare spots reseeded, and debris removed.

Don’t forget rest

Parents should regulate their children’s sporting activities so their muscles can rest between events.

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