Dental Tribune America
Dr Andrew Sarowitz is part of the clinical performance team of the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets, but his job as a sports dentist extends to working with mixed martial arts fighters as well. More and more, sports teams are realising the impact of oral health on athletic performance. (Image: Andrew Sarowitz)

“We’ve had minor issues lead to missed time”—Dr Andrew Sarowitz on treating professional athletes

By Curaden
August 26, 2020

Periodontal disease, acute trauma, ill-fitting mouth guards—these are just a few examples of problems that could compromise athletic performance. As a result, sports teams in most countries have realized the need for specialized dental care, and dentists are increasingly being regarded as essential members of the sports medical team. New York-based dentist Dr Andrew Sarowitz is in charge of the dental health of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) Brooklyn Nets basketball team and works with mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that professional athletes attending the dental clinic at the London 2012 Summer Olympics had especially poor oral health. The findings highlighted the need for more oral health education and oral injury prevention in sports, as well as the impact bad oral health can have on athletes’ well-being and performance. These findings did not come as a surprise to Sarowitz. “Coaches don’t want any dental issues to come up that could lead to missing a practice or playing time,” explained Sarowitz. As the official dentist for the Brooklyn Nets, he is part of the clinical performance team. He said: “We do pre-season screenings so that we can complete any treatment before the season or training camps begin. If dental issues pop up during the season it creates a real challenge.”

For sports dentist Dr Andrew Sarowitz, treating acute trauma and educating teams and coaches on the importance of oral health in athletes are the order of the day. (Image: Andrew Sarowitz)

According to Sarowitz, the athletes, and patients generally for that matter, can only be considered healthy overall if they are periodontally healthy. Periodontal disease compromises the immune system and is associated with systemic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can cause infections to progress faster and can worsen respiratory illness, which is especially dangerous in today’s climate.

“One of the most important factors in improving the oral health of athletes is education. We try to get the team, coaches and training staff all on the same page to help reinforce good habits,” Sarowitz explained. “A good oral care routine and regular check-ups help to prevent some more serious problems that can influence training and games. We’ve had minor issues lead to missed time, for example large cavities that turn into a need for root canal therapy.”

“The majority of our game day work is related to dental or orofacial trauma”

In addition to ensuring prevention, treating acute injuries makes up the other half of being a sports dentist. “We see the players for normal routine patient care,” Sarowitz explained. “But what makes the job a little different is that we have to be present at every home game in order to treat any injuries suffered by either the Nets or the visiting team during the game. The majority of our game day work is related to dental or orofacial trauma. If a player is injured, it’s all about getting him or her stable and back into the game if possible. With the Nets, the majority of the injuries we see are lip, cheek or tongue lacerations that require sutures. Temporomandibular joint trauma happens on occasion.”

Needless to say, preventing trauma to teeth and gingivae is a crucial part of the job, and adequate mouth guards are the way to go in this scenario. “The type of mouth guard always depends on the specific sport and level of protection needed,” said Sarowitz. “The guards we make for the Nets are very different from those we would make for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In basketball, we can keep things fairly minimal, as we’re mostly concerned with tooth-to-tooth contact. Combat sport is a whole different animal.”

The type of mouth guard depends on the particular sport. Mouth guards used by MMA fighters not only protect the teeth and gingivae, but are designed in such a way as to minimize the chances of brain trauma. (Image: Andrew Sarowitz)

As MMA fighters are actually taking strikes to the head, there are a number of factors to consider. In addition to preventing tooth-to-tooth contact, the guards need to extend much higher to cover tooth roots and help prevent soft-tissue injury, as well as alveolar fractures. “We also need to increase the separation between the teeth so that we can get some separation of the mandibular condyle from the temporal fossa in the skull,” said Sarowitz. “This added space can help dissipate forces and potentially reduce brain trauma. So, believe it or not, protecting your teeth is just one small part of what goes into the design.”

His sports dentistry background, involving a fair share of treating NBA dental injuries as well as those of MMA fighters, inspired Sarowitz to create his own brand of customized mouth guards. “A mouth guard is not for professional athletes only. I’d recommended some level of protection for any athlete in any sport. Via Impact Dental Designs, athletes can customize their own guards for any sport they choose. It’s a fun process: taking a name, team, logo or anything they can think of and bringing it to life on a mouth guard.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2020 - All rights reserved - Dental Tribune International