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Protecting teeth, one mouth guard at a time

From left, siblings Payton, Avery and Isabel McEwen display their new mouth guards and the casts made from their teeth.

Lance Maurer, a freshman at Ypsilanti High School, checks the fit of his new mouth guard for dental student Robert Ault.

Students Devangi Paghdal (front) and David Han work on the mouth guard assembly line.

Brothers Will (top) and Spencer Riddle show their new black and red mouth guards at the clinic. They are preparing for 7th- and 5th-grade football in Milan this fall.

Tamara Mackie, a fourth-year dental student who was a lead organizer of the clinic, picks up finished mouth guards in a variety of colors specified by the athletes.

School's annual free mouth guard clinic draws area athletes

Ann Arbor, Mich., Aug. 3, 2018 -– Twelve-year-old Avery McEwen of Ann Arbor won’t have any trouble putting his new custom-fit mouth guard to good use.

Name a sport and the Slauson Middle School student probably plays it. He rattled off baseball, basketball, soccer, cross country, wrestling and flag football for starters and had the feeling he was leaving something out. His year-round sports schedule explains why he was at the annual Mouth Guard Clinic at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry last Saturday.

His two sisters were there, too, with sports lists that were shorter but no less important. Isabel, 9, was flashing a new purple mouth guard that she will use for soccer, softball and basketball, while 7-year-old Payton picked up a (Go) blue mouth guard for soccer and softball.  Both are Eberwhite Elementary School students.

Laura McEwen was one of many parents who brought their children to the dental school so they could be fitted by dental students and faculty members for the free mouth guards. About 45 mouthguards were made for athletes from age 5 to adult at this year’s clinic, which drew participants from throughout Washtenaw County and the adjoining region.

The clinic is a longstanding summer tradition at the dental school, timed to help athletes who will play in the fall sports seasons, although the mouth guards are for all sports any time of the year. The U-M dental school pioneered the fabrication of mouth guards in the 1950s and ‘60s and promoted their use as a way to prevent injuries to teeth and the oral cavity. Originally developed for football players to prevent tooth loss and concussions, mouth guards are now widely worn for many sports all around the world. Even supposed non-contact sports, such as soccer or basketball, can cause damage when players inadvertently collide or fall.

Dental and dental hygiene students, supervised by clinical faculty members, made the mouth guards, a process that usually takes an hour or slightly longer. Athletes sit in a dental chair so that alginate, a mushy material with the consistency of oatmeal, can be placed in the athlete’s mouth for a few minutes. When it begins to harden, it is removed and provides a negative impression of the athlete’s teeth. A substance called “stone” is poured into the first impression, hardens and provides a perfect cast of the teeth. A sheet of plastic is then heated and a vacuum device pulls the plastic down tightly over the cast of the teeth, creating a perfect fit. When the plastic cools, the excess around the edges is trimmed away and any rough edges are buffed.

Dental student Robert Ault knows the value of mouth guards. As an athlete who played football at Grand Valley State University, as well as hockey and other sports when he was younger, he said he knows how important it is to protect teeth and prevent concussions. He was particularly happy that he could use his dentistry knowledge to be part of the school’s community service project for kids of all ages. He said the custom models made at the dental school fit better and allow athletes to breathe easier than the so-called “boil and bite” mouth guards that can be purchased through sporting goods stores. Although dentists can repair and replace damaged teeth, the best idea is to protect and take care of your original teeth, Ault said.


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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: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or (734) 615-1971.