Before your kids take to the playing field this season, remind them to wear their helmets, mouthguards, and faceshields. That's what experts at the National Institutes of Health advise parents to do to prevent injuries to their children's face and mouth.
According to information recently published by NIH's National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR), children around the nation do not consistently wear protective gear during organized sports. About one of every three dental injuries each year is due to sports-related accidents. The researchers estimate 14 million school age children play at least one organized sport. By urging kids to wear protective gear--and wear it correctly and consistently--parents, coaches and other adults can help save a lot of teeth from damage and loss and reduce the number and severity of other facial damage such as bone fractures and jaw joint trauma as well as blinding eye injuries,concussion and permanent brain injury. Preventing these injuries can also save needless wear and tear on parents' wallets, say the NIDR experts.
"Parents should make certain that children are wearing mouthguards and headgear not only during games, but also during practice," warns Ruth Nowjack-Raymer, lead author of the report, which was based on information from a 1991 national health survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. She and her colleagues at NIDR analyzed the answers given by parents or guardians of more than 9,500 children ages 7 to 17.
Baseball and softball turned out to be the top choices among organized sports for children in the United States, according to the researchers. Next was soccer, then football. In organized football, the scientists found nearly three-fourths of kids wore protective gear all or most of the time. That's partly because rules established in 1962 require the use of protective headgear and mouthguards.
Nowjack-Raymer says a lesson can be learned: "Before these rules, half of all football injuries were to the mouth and face. Now, facial and dental injuries account for less than 2 percent of injuries in football. The rules obviously work." However, such rules don't exist for all sports. So, parental support and encouragement is needed to make sure similar success in injury prevention is matched in other sports. For example, it's estimated that 41 percent of all baseball injuries are to the head, face, mouth and eyes, yet researchers found that mouthguards are rarely worn and helmets are worn only for some positions. The experts stress that headgear, faceshields and mouthguards have been developed already for use in baseball and softball, and that parents need only urge leagues to require kids to use them and set a good example by requiring that their children wear the gear.
The researchers were particularly concerned that the percentage of girls who wear the protective equipment while playing sports is a lot less than for boys--no matter what sport they are playing. Why there is such a difference between the genders has not been determined yet,but several possibilities exist. Nowjack-Raymer explains that some people may believe that girls aren't as at risk for injury or that wearing protective sports gear encourages rougher contact. Researchers caution that injuries do happen to girls and the consequences can be serious.
Similarly, fewer elementary school age children who play sports wear protective gear than high-school-age adolescents. "Athletes, parents and coaches need to realize that players can be injured at any level of competition and that proper equipment can prevent even minor injury," Nowjack-Raymer says. "It's up to adults to stress that both girls and boys, youth and adolescents, can benefit by wearing protective gear for all sports."
The scientists conclude that advice from coaches goes a long way toward influencing the behavior of young athletes. Informed parents should help spread the word to coaches and managers that protective gear must be a routine part of practice and game time for all kids across all sports.
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