In an earlier Health Talk post, Matt wrote about the importance of helmets and mouth guards. In that post our expert’s advice on mouth guards was simple: wear them!
Of course I wanted to find out more. What was the University of Minnesota doing to support Gopher athletes and their teeth?
I turned to James Gambucci, D.D.S., M.P.H., in the Department of Primary Dental Care at the University of Minnesota, who along with Mark Roettger, D.D.S., clinical director of the General Practice Residency Program and past president of the Academy of Sports Dentistry, has been instrumental in coordinating a dental care program between the School of Dentistry and the Athletics Department.
Not only does Gambucci “get” teeth, but as a former U of M hockey player himself, he understands firsthand the importance of mouth guards!
Here’s what he had to say:
Health Talk: Dr. Gambucci, how do the School of Dentistry and the Athletics Department work together?
James Gambucci: The School of Dentistry works with the Athletics Department to protect and/or restore the dental health of intercollegiate athletes. Students and faculty fabricate mouth guards for athletes who are required to – or choose to – wear them. If an athlete suffers a dental injury, dental students under the supervision of faculty assess, diagnose, and manage or treat the condition.
HT: When did the relationship between the School of Dentistry and the Athletics Department begin?
JG: The relationship began under legendary athletics trainer Lloyd “Snapper” Stein and Dr. Norman Holte, an equally legendary oral surgeon from the School of Dentistry.
I wore a mouth guard fabricated by the School of Dentistry when I played hockey for the Gophers from 1969-1973, and participated in the program as a dental student, helping to fabricate mouth guards from 1973-1977.
HT: When do you start fitting athletes every year?
JG: We start fitting athletes for mouth guards in July, when incoming freshman football players report to campus. We work with the training staff for the other teams throughout the year as their athletes begin to prepare for their seasons.
HT: How many athletes are seen every year?
JG: Each year we fabricate mouth guards for every freshman and incoming transfer student for football and men’s and women’s hockey. In addition, we have between 50 and 75 appointments with athletes each year for “elective” mouth guards or treatment of dental trauma or infection.
HT: How does this partnership benefit dentistry students?
JG: Every patient care experience benefits dental students, especially those involving trauma or emergency treatment. Students learn to make a diagnosis while managing or treating the patient within the sense of urgency and limited availability that characterizes many of the appointments with student athletes.
HT: How about for athletes?
JG: Athletes receive prompt treatment for dental trauma or pain in an easily-accessible clinic, from students who are essentially their peers, with supervision by faculty who are experts in their field. Equally important, the athletic training staff knows that access to such care is readily available whenever a situation so demands.
HT: Why are mouth guards important for athletes?
JG: Basically, mouth guards protect teeth, as well as the tongue and cheeks from being cut by teeth during an impact. Well-fitting, comfortable mouth guards enable players to perform at peak levels while ensuring optimal protection from dental/oral injuries.
Editor’s note: Remember! Mouth guards are not just for Big Ten athletes. We encourage anyone who participates in recreational sports or activities that carry a risk of dental injuries to protect their teeth from flying elbows, wayward projectiles, or collisions with animate or inanimate objects by wearing mouth guards.