It's football Friday, and a new study reveals that one piece of a player's protective gear may be making them sick. The research found something most of us already assumed-mouth guards can be very dirty, and the bacteria that grows on them can cause a lot of problems. But there are a few simple steps that can be taken to keep them clean. In the locker room, on the field, in the gym bag- an athlete's mouth guard goes just about everywhere with them.
"We actually have a saying that we say. If you step on the field you're ready to play. So, you step on that field, mouth guards go in," said Brad Borkhuis, a football coach. They're supposed to protect players, but if not properly taken care of they can do just the opposite. "Any time you have something you have in your mouth, if you're not taking care of them. Our mouth is filled with bacteria, fungus, things like that are naturally occurring," said Dr. Bethany Jensen, a dentist. According to a study at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, athletes are breathing in micro-organisms found on mouth guards, which can cause exercise-induced asthma. "Athletes that have asthma or other compromised immune systems would be affected more prominently by an increase in bacteria and other things like that," said Jensen. The key to preventing this type of bacteria is keeping mouth guards as clean as possible. "It's not something that's a top priority or something they even think about, but taking those extra steps here to rinse it out in the sink even if it's just keeping a tooth brush in their locker with them to clean it out, rinse it out, it will definitely go a long way to both keeping the mouth guard in good condition, but also helping keep those things cleaner for their dental health," said Jensen
Just a quick rinse can go a long way in preventing bacteria growth. So, parents and coaches are urged to encourage athletes to find the time to do so. Dentists also advise soaking a mouth guard in denture cleaning solution for easy sanitation and replace it if any jagged edges occur or if the athlete experiences oral irritation or ulcers.