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On Guard: Mouthguard Use Has Become a Talking Point in Basketball

  • Third- and fourth-graders from the Newport Recreation Department play with their mouth guards as they are introduced before an exhibition game at halftime at the Fall Mountain at Newport boys basketball game in Newport, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Third- and fourth-graders from the Newport Recreation Department play with their mouth guards as they are introduced before an exhibition game at halftime at the Fall Mountain at Newport boys basketball game in Newport, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mascoma Valley's Walt Hammond listens to coach Jim Barry during a timeout in boys basketball against Hopkinton in Canaan, N.H., on January 24, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Mascoma Valley's Walt Hammond listens to coach Jim Barry during a timeout in boys basketball against Hopkinton in Canaan, N.H., on January 24, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mouth guards made at Dr. Robert Munson's office in Bradford, Vt. had not been picked up by local athletes. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Mouth guards made at Dr. Robert Munson's office in Bradford, Vt. had not been picked up by local athletes.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rivendell's Shamus Peyton wears a custom-fitted mouthguard purchased by his mother, Heidi Peyton, during the South Royalton at Rivendell boys basketball game in Orford, N.H., on Jan 28, 2014.  <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Rivendell's Shamus Peyton wears a custom-fitted mouthguard purchased by his mother, Heidi Peyton, during the South Royalton at Rivendell boys basketball game in Orford, N.H., on Jan 28, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Heidi Peyton cheers for the Rivendell Academy Raptors during the South Royalton at Rivendell boys basketball game in Orford, N.H., on Jan 28, 2014.  Peyton bought 20 high-quality mouthguards for any member of the Rivendell team who asks after her son received a mouth injury during a game last year. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Heidi Peyton cheers for the Rivendell Academy Raptors during the South Royalton at Rivendell boys basketball game in Orford, N.H., on Jan 28, 2014. Peyton bought 20 high-quality mouthguards for any member of the Rivendell team who asks after her son received a mouth injury during a game last year.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dr. Robert Munson at his dental office in Bradford, Vt. on Jan. 30, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Dr. Robert Munson at his dental office in Bradford, Vt. on Jan. 30, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Third- and fourth-graders from the Newport Recreation Department play with their mouth guards as they are introduced before an exhibition game at halftime at the Fall Mountain at Newport boys basketball game in Newport, N.H., on Jan. 27, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Mascoma Valley's Walt Hammond listens to coach Jim Barry during a timeout in boys basketball against Hopkinton in Canaan, N.H., on January 24, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Mouth guards made at Dr. Robert Munson's office in Bradford, Vt. had not been picked up by local athletes. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Rivendell's Shamus Peyton wears a custom-fitted mouthguard purchased by his mother, Heidi Peyton, during the South Royalton at Rivendell boys basketball game in Orford, N.H., on Jan 28, 2014.  <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Heidi Peyton cheers for the Rivendell Academy Raptors during the South Royalton at Rivendell boys basketball game in Orford, N.H., on Jan 28, 2014.  Peyton bought 20 high-quality mouthguards for any member of the Rivendell team who asks after her son received a mouth injury during a game last year. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Dr. Robert Munson at his dental office in Bradford, Vt. on Jan. 30, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Veteran referee Bob Thatcher headed up court when he caught sight of a player with his mouthguard dangling out of his mouth.

It’s on e thing to see the kids let their guard down — so to speak — while on the foul line, when play is at a standstill. But it’s quite another to see the mouthguard being misused while in the heat of action.

So Thatcher gently told the player to put his mouthguard back in his mouth.

Yet a moment later and the mouthguard was once again hanging out of the player’s mouth. After seeing it happen for the third time, Thatcher had enough. He went up to the player and told him in no uncertain terms to put the mouthguard back in his mouth.

“You look like a bass,” Thatcher told the player.

Not long after, the coach called a time out and walked out to confront Thatcher.

“Did you call my kid an ass?” the coach demanded of the ref.

“No,” corrected Thatcher. “I told him he looked like a hooked bass. … Now you tell him to wear his mouthguard properly.”

Mouthguards. You see them everywhere, in all sports seasons. From the pros all the way down to the grade school teams, kids are wearing mouthguards. But are they wearing the correct kind, wearing them properly and wearing them for precisely the job which they were purchased?

The answer is: Not really.

And therein lies the critical issue. What’s the point of wearing a mouthguard in a contact sport like basketball, if the thing isn’t guarding the mouth? Or to be more direct: How can you play a contact sport like basketball without wearing any mouth — or teeth — protection?

That’s what Heidi Peyton wants to know.

The mother of a Rivendell junior, Peyton is on a crusade to get kids to wear properly fitted mouthguards when they play basketball.

And she’s putting her money where her mouth is. She has purchased 20 mouthguards, each costing around $70, to be given — for free — to any member of the Rivendell basketball team who asks.

And on top of that, Bradford, Vt., dentist Robert Munson will donate his time to fit the unit to each player’s mouth.

It’s a win-win situation — protection for the player and no cost to the family.

Yet at this time, only three other members of the team have taken Peyton up on her offer.

In fact, in Munson’s office, he has two fitted mouthguards all ready to go. Except they have been sitting unclaimed on his workbench since last spring.

“I don’t understand,” Peyton says. “It’s free. Don’t they realize you only get one set of teeth?

“There is protection for every other part of your body. These mouthguards will protect your teeth.”

And Peyton knows that she’s talking about. On the basketball court you are just an elbow away from disaster.

As a high school player at Oxbow under the legendary Mona Garone, Peyton took a number of shots to the mouth — back when mouthguards were not a part of the basketball uniform.

Years later, when having dental work, her dentist asked if she had been hit in the mouth.

“I couldn’t remember how many times. But I suddenly realized how dangerous it was not to protect your teeth.”

That fact was driven home to Peyton last winter when her son, Shamus, was drilled in the mouth during a preseason game at Chelsea. Shamus had worn a mouthguard off and on at times, but not this day.

“It was just uncomfortable,” he said. The safety component was never an issue.

“We both went up for a rebound,” recalled Shamus. “I had it and he lunged for it and caught me right in my mouth.”

Checking his mouth, Shamus found his left front tooth was shoved off the gumline toward the back of his mouth. “I just pushed it back,” he said, and then forgot about it.

Until the tooth started turning brown and black.

The Peytons went to see Munson. A root canal didn’t show much improvement. But after other dental procedures, the tooth is slowly clearing up — at the cost of more than $2,000.

Three weeks after the injury, Shamus had a new, form-fitting mouthguard. He’s never played another game — or even another practice — without it since. And despite Shamus as an example or pleas from his mother during a preseason meeting with winter sports coaches and parents, he remains the only player on the team who wears a mouthguard at all times.

“It doesn’t move, it allows you to talk and it feels much better than those other kinds,” he says. “I’ve taken hits (in the mouth) and it just bounces right off.

“What would I tell other kids? Just look at my tooth. Do you want this to happen to you?”

Mouthguards were developed in 1890 by London dentist Woolf Krause to protect boxers from lip lacerations. They made their way to the United States around 20 years later, and by the 1930 s were a part of a boxer’s equipment.

When it comes to mouthguards, there are a number of choices. The range is from the $1.99 boil-and-bite guards all the way up to the $70-$90 special dentist-produced form-fitting (impression-cast) guards — and anything in between.

At Stateline Sports in West Lebanon, for instance, the display has mouthguards from $2 up to $25 for the Shock Doctor products.

“I would say in a year we would sell about 1,000 of all types,” said Jon Damren, owner of Stateline. “When it comes to protection, anything is better than nothing.”

According to SportsDentistry.com, more than 90 percent of the mouthguards worn are of the variety bought at sporting goods stores. The other 10 percent are of the custom-made variety.

The problem, according to Munson, is that, while well intentioned, a poorly fitting mouthguard really does no good at all. Munson is committed to the cause. A doc who was a jock, he has played the game and seen the injuries up close. And he is adamant that players wear properly fitted mouthguards.

He has a file of photographs about an inch thick showing players with mouthguards. Some show players with their mouths open, others show players with teeth visible, while still other photographs show players just chewing on mouthguards dangling from their lips.

“Look at these,” he says. “How are these (mouthguards) protecting a player’s teeth?”

The problem is that the other guards are just too thin and the player can either get too much movement in the mouth, or chew through the thin plastic, thereby inhibiting the guard from working properly.

So Munson makes his own. And it is quick, simple and inexpensive. And best of all ... they do the job.

First he takes a plaster impression of the upper teeth. With that as a guide, he then takes pieces of laminated plastic and places them on the impression and sets it into the Drufomat Scan Pressure Ma chine.

The machine creates a hard plastic coating that offers a clean, comfortable and tight fit for the teeth that are at least 3 mm thick. It allows the player to breathe cleanly and to speak clearly. If there is a problem with the fit, a quick adjustment is all it takes.

Plus the plastic coating comes in 20 different colors to fit any mood or statement the player may wish to make.

In a lab, this process can cost $79. Heidi Peyton and Munson are offering the same item for free.

“A root canal costs $900. A crown is $1,200 and an implant is $5,000,” said Munson rattling off the cost of potential dental traumas that can hit a player not wearing a mouthguard. Munson also points out that he has a patient from Haverhill whose dental costs are upward of $20,000.

“And don’t forget, with some trauma you may not even see the damage for five or 10 years.

“I’m just waiting for the parents to get the word and get their kids in here.”

So we all agree that mouthguards should be recommended to players involved in contact sports. But there seems to have been some misinformation in the past about just what job mouthguards should be expected to do.

For instance, it was the school of thought for a time that using a mouthguard helped a player avoid the effects of a concussion after taking a hard hit.

But curiously, in an era when concussions are such a hot button subject, when you go looking for details and statistics on how mouthguards work in that arena, there seems to be something missing.

“You couldn’t find anything on that subject, could you?” asked Keith Loud, the interim chairman of pediatrics and director of CHaD. “That’s pretty telling.

“If you search medical literature there’s a lack of evidence that mouthguards do anything to prevent or decrease the effects of concussions.”

Like the misconception about football helmets, neither they nor mouthguards are designed to prevent concussions. Especially since we still are learning about what exactly does cause a concession.

Helmets do the job they were designed to do: Preventing skull fractures and bleeding brains.

And mouthguards do their job as well: Protecting the teeth and mouth.

So, in 2011, the Vermont Principals’ Association (VPA) heard a presentation from the VPA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee talking directly about mouth guards in basketball. The group’s findings were in direct conflict with a 2000 ruling that required mouthguards to be worn for every sport.

“It was an overreaction to the issue presented by the national federation,” said VPA Executive Secretary Bob Johnson.

This time, the committee came out with a different conclusion.

“We should make mouthguards recommended (as opposed to optional), not required,” the report read.

“Our research showed that sports doctors did not find a significant enough risk to require mouthguards in basketball. But we do recommend it.”

Loud goes a step further. He believes that mouthguards should be required for contact or collision sports.

“It’s hugely important for the protection of the teeth,” Loud said.

Quoting a North Carolina study, Munson points out that if you play any sports, you have a 17 percent chance of an athletic injury. SportsDe ntistry.com adds, “In basketball, where mouthguards are not routinely worn, 34 percent of the injuries are profacial.”

But Loud realizes he — and advocates like Heidi Peyton and Munson — may be fighting an uphill battle.

“I don’t know what it says when kids pay more for their sneakers or cleats than they do for something that will protect their teeth.”

Munson lays the problem at the feet of the dental administration.

We hear all about fluoride and how that is beneficial for kids, but we don’t hear a word about m outhguards,” says Munson. “The problem is with the American Dental Association. There is nothing coming from there.

“It’s one thing for me to tell people what I think is best, but there’s nothing to back it up.

“It’s time to dispel the myths and get the facts out to people,” Munson says firmly. “If you play sports, a quality, properly fitted mouthguard is a necessity.”

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.