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Mouthguards: Protecting your smile

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Ever heard the saying "don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?"

Have you ever thought about how it would feel if you lost one or two of your front teeth?

You'd probably avoid smiling. It would be uncomfortable talking with someone face-to-face. And how about eating an apple?

Each year, thousands of people get hurt playing sports and other activities. Blows to the face can injure teeth, lips, cheeks and tongue.

A properly fitted mouth guard, or mouth protector, is an important piece of athletic gear that can protect the teeth. You may have seen them used in contact sports, such as football, boxing and ice hockey. However, you don't have to be on the football field to benefit from a mouth guard.

New findings in sports dentistry show that even in non-contact sports such as gymnastics or rollerblading, mouthguards help protect teeth. Many experts recommend that a mouth guard be worn for any recreational activity that poses a risk of injury to the mouth.

"Although we can replace a lost tooth with an artificial one, nothing compares to our natural teeth, said Dr. (Capt.) Tamara Murray, 51st Dental Squadron. "The price to pay for not wearing a mouth guard is not worth the loss."

There are three types of mouthguards: the ready-made, or stock; the mouth-formed "boil and bite"; and the custom-made mouth guard made by your dentist. All three mouthguards provide protection but vary in comfort and cost.

The most effective mouth guard should have several features. It should be resilient, tear-resistant, comfortable and fit properly. It should also be durable, easy to clean and doesn't restrict speech or breathing.

Generally, a mouthguard covers only the upper teeth, but in some cases, dentists will make a mouthguard for the lower teeth. Your dentist can suggest the right mouthguard for you.

Here are some suggestions for taking good care of your mouthguard:

-- Before and after each use, rinse it with cold water or with an antiseptic mouth rinse. You can clean it with toothpaste and a toothbrush, too.

-- When it's not used, place your mouth guard in a firm, perforated container. This permits air circulation and helps prevent damage.

-- Avoid high temperatures, such as hot water, hot surfaces or direct sunlight, which can distort the mouth guard.

-- Check it for tears, holes and poor fit. A mouth guard that's torn or in bad shape can irritate your mouth and lessen the amount of protection it provides.

-- Have regular dental checkups and bring your mouth guard along so the dentist can make sure it's still in good condition.

The dental clinic offers "boil and bite" mouthguard at no cost to the patient. The base exchange also carries them in the sporting goods section.

Don't take your teeth for granted. Protect your smile with a mouthguard.