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Braces and Water Sports

Person in scuba gear underwater

The summer months see an increase in aquatic events, and some orthodontic patients wonder whether their braces are pool-approved. Just as orthodontic treatment won’t interrupt your regular routines, it shouldn’t stop you from having fun in the water. You can swim, wade in the ocean, or play contact water sports. However, the riskier the activity, the more cautious you should be.

Braces in the Pool

Wearing your braces in the pool is safe, and there is no limit to the frequency or duration of time in the water. Many orthodontic patients are competitive swimmers who practice several hours a day. Some patients worry about water additives like chlorine causing their braces to rust, but that is just a myth. Today’s “metal” braces are actually built from rust-resistant titanium alloy.

Similarly, clear aligners are made of thermoplastics and will not rust. Some swimmers fear losing their aligners in the pool, but because your orthodontist custom designed them to fit your teeth–snugly enough to move them–this won’t happen.

You need to wear aligners at least 22 hours a day, and that includes the time you remove them for eating, drinking, and hygiene. It is best not to start a habit of removing them in the pool, whether you are swimming laps or just splashing around.

Braces at the Beach

Like pool water, ocean water will not harm your braces. In fact, salt acts as a cleansing agent. However, be cautious about temperature if you are wearing clear aligners. They are not designed to handle prolonged exposure to heat, which is why your orthodontist instructed you not to rinse your aligners with hot water.

If you are taking a snack break, ensure that you store aligners in their case and place it in the shade. If you don’t have access to shade, cover the case with a beach towel or something that shields it from sun exposure. Contact your orthodontist immediately to order replacements if the heat damages your aligners. In the meantime, wear your previous set to minimize disruption to your treatment.

Water Polo

Playing water polo poses a risk to your teeth if you are wearing braces, as do all contact sports. Mouthguards are especially important since your teeth, gums, and supporting bone structures are more vulnerable during orthodontic treatment.

Mouthguards are soft, flexible dental appliances that fit over your teeth and gums. They cushion your teeth when your mouth or head sustains a hit, and they provide shock absorption to minimize trauma to the jaw and neck in a significant impact.

Several types of mouthguards exist, ranging from generic pre-formed varieties to ones molded and fitted by a specialist. The kind you choose might depend on how often you will be playing a contact sport. If you’re on a competitive water polo team, you will require a higher level of protection than if you plan to toss a volleyball at a pool party.

Mouthguards that are available off shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies are the least expensive and require no preparation. However,  they are not designed for braces, so many orthodontic patients find them too tight. Wearing a mouthguard that exerts too much pressure on your braces and teeth can actually be more dangerous than not wearing one.

Other mouthguards that you can find over-the-counter include boil-and-bite varieties, which are made of heat-activated thermoplastic. Once this type of mouthguard is softened (usually in hot water), you can customize its fit by placing the guard tray over your teeth and applying pressure. You must do this with your braces on to get an accurate fit.

There are also over-the-counter mouthguards designed specifically for athletes wearing braces that you can purchase online or in sporting goods stores. These include well-known brands like ShockDoctor, Gladiator, and Vettex. They are more expensive but offer better protection than standard guards.

Your dentist also can customize a professional mouthguard specifically for your teeth. The American Dental Association recommends that all orthodontic patients wear custom mouthguards for sports. These are made of medical-grade silicone, are typically the most comfortable, and offer the best protection.

Scuba Diving

While braces won’t prevent you from scuba diving, they can cause discomfort when biting on the mouthpiece of your mask. Divers bite down for periods of up to 45 minutes. If you are wearing braces, this inevitably will cause some discomfort. It will be worse if the orthodontist recently tightened your braces. Plan your diving trips so that they do not occur right after you’ve had an adjustment.

Before a dive, inspect your braces for loose brackets or wires that can cause pain with pressure. Sometimes, divers wearing braces will preemptively coat their braces in wax, especially if the braces are relatively new and their lips still haven’t adjusted to the roughness. You may need to use a cushioned mouthpiece if your lips are especially sensitive.

Water-Skiing and Surfing

Water-skiing and surfing are high-risk sports that contain significant hazards for anyone. So you will need to be especially careful if you decide to perform these sports while wearing braces.

Though you might not see many other skiers and surfers wearing dental equipment, a mouthguard is a must for either of these sports. In addition, while a serious injury is unlikely (especially if you’re experienced), you need to be prepared for what you would do in case of an emergency.

Before heading out, take a moment to look up the nearest emergency room, as well as an emergency dentist near you. A blow to the mouth could require either, depending on the nature of the injury.

Head straight to the ER if you are cut and bleeding heavily from the mouth, as you may need stitches. The same applies if you are bleeding from the head or have any symptoms of a concussion. Left untreated, a concussion can be a serious medical condition.

A trip to the emergency dentist is more efficient if you have a chipped or cracked tooth, have lost a tooth, or sustained a gum injury. These problems can be serious and cannot be ignored, but they are better addressed by a dentist rather than in an emergency room.

If you’ve lost a tooth or part of a tooth, try to handle the broken tooth as little as possible. In some cases, the dentist can re-implant it if he sees you within an hour of the accident.

If you’re ready to start your journey toward a happier, healthier smile, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified orthodontists.

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