Slapshots and Snap-on Smiles

The mouths of hockey players are like war zones. They’ve been ripped apart and put back together so many times that even to an experienced dentist it can be challenging to navigate. According to a study done by Dentalcare on sports-related injuries, there’s a 10% chance an athlete will sustain a dental injury every season. In fact, five million teeth are knocked out in sports injuries every year. That’s three times more often than in car accidents or violence related tooth loss. Hockey, unsurprisingly, leads the sports world in statistics related to dental injuries.

The frequency of these injuries has decreased in the years since helmets became mandatory in 1979. (Although, the last game played without a helmet was much later, during the 1996-1997 season, due to a clause allowing players who signed contracts before the rule passed to be grandfather in.) Many medical professionals insist that until the league requires cages on helmets and mouth guards, dental injuries will remain a threat to players’ long term health.

When a rock-hard hockey puck is traveling at speeds up to 108.8 mph (the current NHL slapshot record held by Boston Bruin, Zdeno Chara), no amount of equipment is going to guarantee a good outcome for the teeth or mouth of the player standing its path. It’s not just pucks either; sticks, punches, cross-checks into the boards are regularly occurring highlights of almost every hockey game. To add to the statistical probability of a player receiving a mouth injury is the amount of games played every season. Teams play 82 games in less than seven months, not counting playoffs (where the teams play best of seven games per round).

During the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Yahoo Sports even started the ‘NHL Tooth Watch: Lost Fangs of the 2013 Playoffs’. In that postseason alone, 16 teeth were lost between 7 players. New York Rangers’ defensemen, John Moore, took home the trophy with six teeth lost at once from a puck to the face during a particularly intense game against the Boston Bruins. The craziest part is that these players are so committed, passionate and downright tough, they get patched up from the team dentist and usually get right back on the ice to finish the game.

During off-season and time not spent on the ice, many of the players opt to use ‘flippers’ instead of having implants done until they retire from the sport. Dental flippers are temporary tooth replacements. These snap-on smiles have gotten publicity due to their use by hockey players and even child beauty pageant competitors who have lost some of their baby teeth and are waiting on their new teeth to grow in all the way. While, hotly debated controversy surrounds pageantry, for many hockey players it just makes sense. In 2010, Red Wings player Tomas Tatar was crosschecked in a game during the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Championship breaking three of his teeth. After this incident, he had the same teeth knocked out on three more occasions. Situations like this aren’t uncommon in hockey, so long-term fixes aren’t always the best choice until a player retires.

Obviously, if you aren’t a hockey player, having teeth replaced as soon as trauma occurs is the best course of action. Even if you were born without certain teeth, or lost them due to decay or other oral health complications, it just isn’t good for your mouth or even face to go without a tooth, or teeth, for any extended amount of time.

Garland Family and Cosmetic Dentist, Dr. Gregory Kerbel, DDS, says

“Many people don’t realize that when you lose a tooth or are born without one, it affects more than meets the eye. Like an iceberg so much is going on below the surface you can’t see, that it often gets overlooked. Besides the obvious gap from the missing tooth, the root is also gone. Not only does this make chewing and biting difficult, but the jaw bone and surrounding tissue need stimulation to stay strong and without this will begin to deteriorate. Bone loss in the jaw can also lead to a change in facial appearance as someone ages.”