Word of mouth

Boil-and-bite mouthguards are still popular in children’s sports; so how do dentists get the word out to parents that custom-made, dentist-fitted mouthguards are the only way to go? By Kerryn Ramsey

Mouthguards have been widely embraced by all sectors of the sporting community and are considered an essential element for anyone playing contact sport. The Australian Dental Association (ADA) strongly recommends that mouthguards be worn during the game and at all training sessions. Furthermore, the ADA would like to see all sports clubs commit to a ‘No Mouthguard, No Play’ policy, particularly for children’s sporting teams. Inexperience coupled with enthusiasm puts children’s teeth at high risk during sport so the ADA encourages parents to purchase custom-made mouthguards, supplied and fitted by a qualified dentist.

However, this is where the problem lies. While the majority of sports clubs enforce sensible mouthguard policy, kids are allowed to play using any type of mouthguard. The boil-and-bite options, easily available and cheap to purchase, are considered completely acceptable, even though they offer little protection.

“Over-the-counter mouthguards can move around in the mouth and create all kinds of problems if they take a blow while they’re in the wrong position,” says Professor David Manton, ADA’s Oral Health Committee chair. “They often don’t fit properly and are uncomfortable to wear so they spend a lot of time out of the mouth.”

However, they win over parents as they are inexpensive compared to custom-fitted items. A cheapie can be purchased for as little as $10 while custom-fitted options start at about $120 and can go as high as $200.

“I’d never advise anyone not to wear a mouthguard just because they can’t afford custom-fitted,” says Professor Manton. “But $120 can be considered a lot of money, especially in poorer areas. However, compared to the cost of treating the consequences of dental trauma, it’s very inexpensive.”

Despite the ADA’s public messages, there are many kids playing contact sport with ill-fitting mouthguards. Parents who could afford custom-fitted items simply aren’t aware of the limited protection provided by a boil-and-bite cheapie. So how do dentists spread the message to the community? What are the best ways to market mouthguards to parents?

“Over-the-counter mouthguards can move around in the mouth and create all kinds of problems if they take a blow while they’re in the wrong position.”—Professor David Manton, chair, ADA Oral Health Committee

Dr Nicole Kaplan, orthodontist and owner of Orthocare Orthodontics in the Sydney suburb of Cremorne, believes that dental professionals need to build a relationship with local sporting clubs and schools. As the sponsor of the Mosman Junior Rugby Club Girls Competition, she’s found that cheap mouthguards
are still a common sight at games and training.

“I’m there whenever they have a function where all the kids and parents are attending,” says Dr Kaplan. “I set up a table and have information pamphlets to hand out. I also use the weekly club newsletter to explain why it’s important to wear custom-fitted mouthguards.”

In addition to this, she goes to the oval at training sessions and takes impressions on the spot. Convenience appeals to the busy parents. Her sessions also catch the attention of other parents when they see kids getting impressions taken.

Dr Kaplan is so passionate about the issue, she offers a 50 per cent price reduction on mouthguards for all club members. If the parents have private health cover, they are also entitled to a rebate towards the price of a mouthguard. With Mosman Junior Rugby Club’s support, this information is shared on the club’s website, newsletters and at virtually all functions.

“For me, the most important thing is to make mouthguards as affordable as possible,” says Dr Kaplan. “I offer them at the lowest cost I can manage to add a little more encouragement for the parents.”

John Mutton, president of the Mosman Junior Rugby Club, appreciates Dr Kaplan’s efforts and is more than happy to assist in any way possible.

“For me, the most important thing is to make mouthguards as affordable as possible. I offer them at the lowest cost I can manage to add a little more encouragement for the parents.”—Dr Nicole Kaplan, orthodontist/owner, Orthocare Orthodontics

“While our club has a ‘No Mouthguard, No Pwlay’ policy, I don’t see that ever changing to a requirement for only custom-fitted mouthguards,” he says. “Everyone wants to keep their kids safe—and we’ve seen that with the increased use of headgear—but strict enforcement will just push kids out of sport. Cost is a huge issue for some parents but education and discounts, such as Nicole offers, are the best way to maximise uptake by parents and kids.”

As a dentist, it’s important to educate the parents on the benefits of custom-fitted mouthguards by getting the information to them at the point of demand. This means being there when kids are signing up for sport, and organising uniforms and kit.

“The best way to increase the penetration of information to the target groups is for the dentist to have direct involvement with sports clubs,” says Professor Manton. “It’s also not a bad way to promote your practice.”

Fitting local kids with mouthguards at a reduced cost may mean a small financial hit but it can also create a lifelong relationship with a dentist. In addition, when parents come in to have their children fitted for a mouthguard, they have the opportunity to investigate your practice. While they already know you’re a dentist who’s actively involved with the local community, they probably didn’t realise you offer teeth whitening, orthodontic care, veneers and all your other services.

While the cost of custom-fitted mouthguards is always going to be a stumbling block for some parents, it’s worthwhile explaining the false economy of a $10 mouthguard. One dental accident and the money spent to fix broken or lost teeth will far outweigh the cost of a custom-fitted mouthguard, even if they have to buy a new one every year.

As Professor Manton points out, “Education of the population is the best way to gain long-term acceptance of the custom-fitted mouthguard as an important part of sporting life.”

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