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Mouth guards prevent injuries in Laredo (8/21/97)

Nearly 275 high school athletes from Laredo received custom-fitted mouth guards this week. The devices were fitted Saturday, Aug. 16, at the city's second annual "Free Athletic Mouth Guard Day."

Custom mouth guards are expensive, but about 30 dentists and dental assistants from Laredo as well as 20 dental school faculty, staff and students from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio donated their time so the mouth guards could be provided at no cost to the students.

The event started in 1996 under the sponsorship of the Laredo District Dental Society, the City of Laredo Health Department, Gateway Community Health Center, and the Health Science Center. Six high schools bused the athletes to the Gateway and Laredo Health Department clinics, where teams stood by to cast the molds and fabricate the mouth guards.

"We had about 30 dentists and dental assistants from Laredo come in early Saturday morning, do the alginate impressions and finish the mouth guards by the afternoon. We're very grateful for their help," said Sonia G. Rodriguez, DDS, chief of dental services for the City of Laredo Health Department, who helped organize the event.

Mouth guards are required in football and other interscholastic sports. Custom-fitted mouth guards can cost more than $100 so athletes often wear poorly-fitted "boil-and-bite" mouth guards they make at home. Custom mouth guards fit tightly, reduce the chance of concussion and mouth damage and coaches say players like them. Volunteers made the mouth guards for the cost of the supplies, about $4 to $5 per mouth guard.

Money for the supplies came from the South Texas/Border Region Health Education Initiative, a legislative program the Health Science Center runs in cooperation with border communities to expand opportunities in health-care education. The initiative supports a training program in advanced prosthodontics in Laredo, and members of the program pitched in for Mouth Guard Day.

Last year, 322 athletes received mouth guards. School officials said the athletes wore them with few complaints, and probably had a safer year overall, particularly in football.

"Last season it seemed like we had fewer players getting 'bell ringers,' that type of injury when you get a blow to the head or the jaw. Those can be very serious. The new mouth guards fit all the way to the back of the teeth and they give more cushion if a player gets hit," said David Reidenbach, athletic trainer at Cigarroa High School.

About 20 faculty members, dental assistants, residents and laboratory technicians from the Health Science Center's prosthodontics department joined in Mouth Guard Day. "This is an excellent example of how representatives from the Health Science Center and the practicing dental community can work together to provide a significant service for the youth of the community," said William Kuebker, DDS, the department chairman.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570