It seems there are two views on the subject
By Wayne Shuster
These days, more and more athletes are wearing mouth guards, even in sports where such protection might never before have been a factor. The question is whether a mouth guard for rec hockey should be considered.
Even many baseball and basketball players wear them. In fact, the use of mouth guards is required for those who play high school lacrosse, field hockey, and of course, football and ice hockey. A study conducted by the Academy for Sports Dentistry determined that 10% of all dental injuries are the result of sports mishap.
The decision to wear a mouth guard for rec hockey is more of a personal choice. The most obvious reason is that a puck to the face will likely rearrange your dental array and result in a trip to the dentist. While helmets are mandatory, there are some hockey players (depending on the league rules) who—for reasons unknown—skate with no facial protection whatsoever, or with only a half shield that leaves the lower half of the face completely exposed to flying pucks or errant sticks. But a good number of hockey players play in non-checking leagues, most of whom use full-facial protection, such as a metal “cage,” a full, high-impact plastic shield, or a combination of the two.
The Concussion Debate
According Dr. Robert Cantu, a world-renowned expert on head and neck injury and concussions, although mouth guards certainly are instrumental in preventing dental and oro-facial injury, they have not been shown to decrease the incidence of concussion. Despite the belief by a majority of the hockey world that concussions can be avoided by wearing a mouth guard, at a Canadian symposium on the subject Dr. Cantu explained, “No study that mouth guards prevent concussions has been done. But they do prevent injuries to the teeth so I would recommend all collision-sports players wear mouth guards.”
So Should You Use a Mouth Guard for Rec Hockey?
The medical establishment maintains that, especially for youth hockey, there’s more than enough evidence to support the mandated use of mouth guards. And Dr. Cantu backs that up: “Mouth guards protect the teeth and give you something to bite down on before a violent collision, so yes, you should wear a mouth guard.”
As for whether you should invest in a higher-priced mouth guard or a cheaper “boil and bite” model, the experts agree that there is no conclusive evidence that shows that the former offers more protection than the latter. More expensive models do, however, seem to have a more comfortable fit.
The Bottom Line
If you play hockey and wear minimal or no facial protection, and unless you don’t value your teeth, it stands to reason that you should definitely wear a mouth guard for rec hockey. But what if you play in a non-checking league and wear full-facial protection?
In that case, keep in mind that hockey is a collision sport, and collisions don’t necessarily have to occur between opponents; many are the result of ‘friendly fire,’ or collisions between teammates. Such occurrences can result in chipped or broken teeth, and a mouth guard can almost certainly prevent that from happening.
The decision of whether you should wear a mouth guard for rec hockey, then, rests with your risk tolerance and comfort level. As the saying goes, it couldn’t hurt!
Wayne Shuster plays hockey twice a week. His helmet is equipped with a full-facial cage and he refuses to wear a mouth guard.