No matter what a player’s age, proper mouth protection is a key component to health and safety.
For youngsters just starting out in flag football, that means finding a mouth guard that fits or trimming down one made for older players.
“When you are talking about 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, you could have some difficulty finding one that fits their mouth,” said Todd Casey, a dentist from Oakton, Va., and a coach and commissioner in the Fairfax County Youth Football League. “For a kid that small, you often can take a regular-sized, generic guard and cut it down to fit.”
Place the guard in a child’s mouth and cut from the back until the front teeth are flush with the front of the guard while making sure the back teeth remain covered. Then, trim the side flanges so it isn’t pushing into the cheek causing discomfort.
Most children’s first experience with mouth guards will be uncomfortable, so adults have to balance between initial discomfort and proper fitting so the plastic doesn’t rub the cheek and gums to cause irritation.
“Make sure that it isn’t pushing too much into the cheek tissue,” Casey said. “If there is not enough room for the gum tissue on the top teeth, you may need to trim there, too.”
From there, follow the directions to soften the mouth guard in boiling water, place it in the child’s mouth, have the player suck in the excess air and massage the mold around the mouth. The process often takes two tries to get it right.
Trimming the mouth guard too far can cause the product’s structure to weaken, said Jay Turkbas, Shock Doctor vice president of marketing and product development. This can cause the guard to lose effectiveness and wear out faster.
“The best method is to use scissors and trim small increments – perhaps up to an eighth of an inch at a time,” Turkbas said. “However, the mouth guard does not reach its full size or shape until after molding, so there may be some incremental trimming after molding to adjust the length. The key is to not trim too much so the mouth guard loses its protective qualities for the teeth and gums as well as the bite surface.”
Shock Doctor is the official mouth guard of USA Football.
Turkbas recommends the Shock Doctor Gel Max or the Pro mouth guard for children ages 5 to 7. Flag players should use a strapless product since there is no facemask to connect it to.
In any case, parents likely will need to replace the mouth guard once or twice throughout the season if a new tooth comes in or if a child chews on the plastic to the point it tears, Casey said. It’s the best way to keep a child’s mouth safe.
“Losing a tooth should not affect how the mouth guard performs, but you need to make room for a new tooth coming in,” Casey said. “At around 6, children get their first permanent molars in the back and they are losing teeth in the front. Even though flag football is not a contact sport, you need to make sure the mouth is protected.”