According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the risk of damage to the mouth during sports activity is reduced 60 times by the use of mouthguards, and more than 200,000 sports-related oral injuries are prevented annually in the United States by use of mouthguards. Currently, the ADA requires the use of mouthguards in football, ice hockey, field hockey, boxing, and lacrosse and recommends their use in twenty-four other sports activities. The custom-fitted mouthguards that Operation Mouthguard provides are superior to the traditional ‘boil-and-bite’ (stock) mouthguards that are usually available at sporting-goods stores. OM reaches out to underserved children in the Boston area who do not have access to custom-fitted mouthguards via communication and coordination with coaches and sports coordinators, and by partnering with nonprofit organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, the YMCA, and the MGH Healthcare Center.

At each event, HSDM 3rd and 4th year students take impressions of the athletes’ mouths and teach the recipients about the importance of proper oral protection during contact sports. These impressions are supervised by an attending HSDM faculty dentist who oversees all fittings. When we return to HSDM with the impressions, student volunteers help pour models and finish preparing the mouthguards in the Preclinical Learning Center. Afterwards, members of our group reconvene with the teams to hand out the custom mouthguards to each recipient.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), custom mouthguards are the most protective, comfortable, and retentive mouthguard option. These characteristics not only reduce the possibility of serious injury, but increase the likelihood that the player will regularly use the well-fitting, comfortable device. Furthermore, members of the OM team are able to apply their understanding of proper occlusion when taking impressions. As per the AAPD, ensuring correct occlusion can prevent or reduce injury by better absorbing and distributing the force of impact. Properly fitted mouthguards significantly decrease the incidence of orofacial tooth, jaw, and gingival trauma. Furthermore, by providing cushioning between the maxilla and mandible, mouthguards may reduce the incidence or severity of condylar displacement injuries as well as the potential for concussions.

In addition to providing mouthguards, OM volunteers have used trivia questions and pictures to educate children about diseases of the oral cavity, including caries, pulpitis, gingivitis, periodontitis, candidiasis, and oral herpes. The HSDM students discuss proper brushing and flossing habits, as well as the effects of tobacco use, oral piercings, and bulimia. The dental students also promote dentistry as a profession and encourage children to consider dentistry as a career choice.

Operation Mouthguard provides young athletes with mouthguards who otherwise would not have this crucial protection. Ensuring proper fit and occlusion cannot be reproduced at home using a traditional boil-and-bite mouthguard, thus resulting in inferior protection and comfort. However, the cost of a custom-fitted mouthguard can range from $190 to $500 when performed by a dentist and is usually not covered by insurance, thus making this option cost prohibitive for most families. The AAPD has found that attitudes of officials, coaches, parents, and players about the use of mouthguards influence their usage. Our mission allows us the unique opportunity to provide orofacial protection and educate members of the community about the importance of oral health.