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A good fit: School of Dentistry clinic draws children, adults for free mouth guards

Trisha Patel (D3), front, trims excess plastic off of a red mouth guard in the lab. Next to her is Carlotta Fantin-Yusta (D-3), who is preparing to heat a flat piece of green plastic that a vacuum will pull down over the cast of an athlete's mouth to form a mouth guard.

U-M student and rugby player Meghan Hough checks the look of her new mouthguard in a hand-held mirror as Dr. Ken May asks her to clench her teeth to check the fit. Partially hidden at left is Kareem Rabaa (D-2).

Father-son hockey players Craig and Hunter Hatcher of Westland have been coming to the Mouth Guard Clinic since 2011. Hunter picked red this year to go with his Belle Tire travel team uniform colors and his dad went with basic black for his over-30 rec league team.

Many sports, leisure activities represented

Ann Arbor, Mich., July 25, 2016 -- Craig Hatcher and his 14-year-old son, Hunter, have made the School of Dentistry’s annual Mouth Guard Clinic a family tradition.

The Hatchers, who live in Westland, are ice hockey players.  Hunter plays on a youth team that travels the country and Craig is in a Garden City recreation league team for players over age 30.  They first came to the clinic in 2011 so Hunter could get a better mouth guard to replace the off-the-shelf model they had purchased. With the old-style mouth guard, Hunter had trouble breathing and it often fell out of his mouth – or maybe he ejected it on purpose because he couldn’t breathe.

A friend who is a U-M alum suggested the School of Dentistry clinic, where dental students who are supervised by faculty create a custom-fit appliance made from a casting of each athlete’s mouth. Because the mouth guard needs to fit tightly but comfortably, the clinic staff is trained to make as many fine adjustments as necessary before the process is complete. The free community service is designed to encourage participants in all sports to protect their teeth and mouths from injury.

“The first time he got this one, he wore it all the time (in games), so it’s what we do now,” Craig said.  On July 16, father and son sat patiently side-by-side in the clinic waiting room, extending what has become their annual family routine on a Saturday morning in mid-July. Since discovering the clinic, they’ve missed twice – once when Hunter was recovering from a tonsillectomy and another year when he was at an out-of-state hockey tournament on the day of the clinic. They intend to keep coming as long as they play hockey, which makes sense since mouth guards wear out, Hunter is still growing and even adult teeth can change from year to year.

This year’s clinic drew a mix of 35 athletes from around southeast Michigan, ranging from eight-year-old twin girls to middle-aged rec-league players.  The traditional mouth-guard sports of football and ice hockey were well-represented, as were basketball, rugby, soccer, boxing and jujitsu.  Muay Thai, another martial arts discipline that is growing in popularity, brought out a Tecumseh mom, dad and 12-year-old son for a family fitting.  Even casual bicycling was cited as a reason for mouth guard protection, by the parents of the twins.

Dr. Ken May, a faculty member who supervised this year’s clinic with Dr. Kiyono Koi, is a long-time proponent of mouth guards.  He cites multiple studies that have shown that mouth guards reduce injury in two ways: Not only do they prevent broken teeth and mouth abrasions suffered in contact with other players or in falls, but they also help prevent concussions. “Data shows clearly that wearing a mouth guard cuts down on trauma to the teeth, as well as concussions,” he says.

About 35 dental students volunteered for the clinic, which was put together by a student organizing committee of Jomana Shayota (D4), Alexis Capeci (D4), Jason Sherbel (D3) and Justin Kammo (D3).  The committee publicized the event with posters at campus and area recreation centers, boxing and martial arts schools, and other locations. In addition to the two faculty advisors, students also were assisted by Scott Ward of Ward Dental Laboratory in Brighton. Ward is a School of Dentistry vendor who donates materials for the mouth guard clinic.

Shayota cites the win-win outcome for both dental students and athletes who often have used inferior mouth guards in the past.  “This event makes it possible for us to provide patients with the necessary protection they need during sports, without the burden of cost,” she said. “The students involved in this event are able to use their knowledge and skills to provide a great service to the community, while seeing the fabrication of a mouth guard from start to finish. The gratitude we receive from all the patients year after year drives us to continue to organize this event.”

During the four-hour clinic, one group of students worked with the athletes in dental chairs. They took impressions of the teeth, then poured a stone slurry into the impression that hardened to create a positive cast that is an exact duplicate of the mouth and teeth. A second group of students, working in an adjacent lab room, heated a flat piece of plastic over the cast, then used a vacuum machine to pull the plastic tightly over the cast to create the mouth guard. Once the newly shaped plastic cools, excess is trimmed and buffing tools are used to smooth rough edges.

Amelia Richardson, a third-year dental student, signed up to help with the clinic this year for the first time. She made three impressions and helped with three final fittings during the morning. “I had wanted more opportunities to work with children since most of my day-to-day clinic activities are with adult patients, whom I enjoy, but kids add extra levels of fun and challenges,” she said. Plus, she added, “It always feels good to provide a free service to the community.”

Whether dealing with an adult or a child, being empathetic and explaining the process is important for putting the patient at ease.  “If the patient is an adult, I tell them the process very plainly and to-the-point so there are no surprises,” Richardson said. “If the patient is a child, I try to work within their frame-of-reference and make the process into something that is not only non-threatening, but also fun.”  For a girl who had experience baking cupcakes, Richardson compared mixing the powder and water for the impression to mixing batter; waiting a set number of minutes for the mixture to firm up was like waiting for cupcakes to finish baking in the oven, they agreed. For a boy whose favorite class is science, Richardson promised the mouth guard process would be a fun science experiment.

The clinic had benefits for both provider and recipient.  “It’s a great opportunity to provide mouth guards to patients who may not be able to afford one and-or incentivize those who may have never worn one to wear one,” Richardson said. “Prevention is our number one goal when it comes to patient care.”

That sentiment was shared by Karen Nielsen, a PhD student in statistics at U-M. Nielsen came to the clinic for a mouth guard she can use this fall in her second year of playing co-ed recreational hockey.  “It’s guys that are all six-feet (tall) and me,” she said. “It’s not too rough, but I’ve had my wind knocked out a few times.”  Thus, the trip to the clinic for the free mouth guard.  “I like my teeth,” she said. “I want to keep them.”

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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.
 
Contact:
Sharon Grayden, Communications Director, at (734) 615-2600, dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or Lynn Monson, Writer, at (734) 615-1971.