Dentist Dr. Thomas Long has seen firsthand what can happen when “the puck stops here.” In addition to seeing everyday athletes in his private practice, Dr. Long (a former college hockey player himself) is the team dentist for the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes.
No matter what sport or skill level, Dr. Long says athletes need to take care of their teeth both on and off the field. “Most athletes are careful about what they eat and their workout routine. Part of that routine should include taking care of your mouth and teeth every single day,” he says. "It would be a shame to miss practice or a game because you are in the dentist's office receiving treatment or recovering from a dental surgical procedure.”
Here, Dr. Long shares his playbook for a healthy mouth.
Make a Mouthguard Part of Your UniformHelmet? Check. Knee pads? Check. Mouthguard? Check! Mouthguards usually cover your upper teeth and protect your teeth, lips, tongue, face and jaw against injuries, so they need to be part of your uniform in any sport you play.
Wearing a mouthguard regularly becomes second nature. It does not matter what type of mouthguard you choose, just make sure it fits properly. “The athletes I see feel better when they start wearing them, and they feel a little naked without them after they get used to them,” Dr. Long says
In fact, many sports won’t let you play without one. Dr. Long says USA Hockey requires all youth players to wear a mouthguard. “The referees have to be able to see it, and it has to be colored,” he says. “I think that’s a great idea.”
Sideline Sugary Sports DrinksIf you need to quench your thirst, reach for water instead of a sports drink. “People are trying to rehydrate, but there may be a lot of sugar in those drinks,” Dr. Long says.
In his experience with the Hurricanes, Dr. Long says he doesn’t often see professional athletes drinking sports drinks. “Their diets are so well-managed they just don’t have a lot of sugar,” he says. “They make their own sports drinks, and they’re more high-protein shakes than sugary sports drinks.”