Sports dentistry is a relatively new field in dentistry, with several slightly different definitions that tend to agree on one main focus: the prevention and treatment of dental and oral injuries resulting from sports. Sports dentists might recommend anything from protective mouthguards to educating athletes on how to avoid dental injury to having a team dentist—or even a combination of the three.
Probably the most common and well-known part of sports dentistry is the use of mouthguards for sports, primarily to prevent dental and oral injuries. First developed for boxing in the early 1900s, mouthguards are now pervasive and widely recommended gear for any sport with a risk of dental injury. This includes athletics outside traditional contact sports like boxing and football. Even activities like biking or gymnastics can be when safer with a mouthguard. Some studies suggest that mouthguards can help protect against concussions and other studies suggest no connection between the two, but the truth is far from clear.
Mouthguards come in three main varieties: over-the-counter generic fits, boil-and-bite types, and custom mouthguards whose creation is supervised by your dentist. We recommend the last type, even though it may be more expensive, because it will fit the best and offer the most protection. The first two are more readily available, but are not guaranteed to fit as well as a custom mouthguard and can be uncomfortable as well as less protective.
Mouthguards obviously play an important role in sports dentistry, but they are not the only aspect of the field. Sports dentistry heavily emphasizes education for athletes of all ages, such as teaching how to prevent injury (like using a mouthguard) or how to effectively react to a lost tooth. While other major focuses include restoration and recovery treatments for sports-related dental injuries, the linchpin of sports dentistry, like in other schools of dentistry, lies in education and prevention.