What do you picture in your head when you think of a typical hockey player? Most people would probably imagine a Canadian guy with a mullet, helmet, skates and a stick. Maybe a crooked nose from all the fights and high-sticks. And when that hockey player smiles, he must be missing teeth, right?
It’s one of the oldest – and most beloved – punchlines the sport has outside of the work of Don Rickles. But as The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle shares in this fantastic piece, losing teeth is far from a laughing matter for many NHL players.
The image of the toothless hockey player harkens back to the game’s rough-and-tumble era when helmets – never mind mouthguards – weren’t in vogue. Returning to the ice to score a goal after losing a tooth is part of hockey lore, the type of tale fans revere. According to those who treat the damage, however, the injuries can be devastating, causing intense physical pain and potentially long-term psychological damage.
Yet team dentists estimate that only about half of the players in the NHL wear mouthguards.
“The only thing that compares to the dental injuries we see in the NHL would be maybe car crashes,” St. Louis team dentist Glenn Edwards said. “People hit their faces on the steering wheel or they’re not buckled in and they hit the dash.
“It’s ridiculous that these players have to go through these devastating injuries.”
Mirtle tells the story of Keith Tkachuk, Eric Belanger and Chris Clark’s cringe-inducing mouth injuries. For example, Keith Tkachuk’s injury was so brutal that he had to get a transplant from his hip bone to restore his upper jaw just so he could have false teeth implanted and it’s not even clear if the procedure will be successful just yet. Belanger, as you may remember, pulled a broken tooth out of his mouth. Want the video? Here it is.
Are you squirming? If not, you’re tougher than I am. According to the story, only about half of the league’s players wear mouthguards. And let’s be honest, some players barely seem to wear them. (See: Kane, Patrick)
The article brings up a good point. I can (sort of kind of) understand the argument that a visor could marginally impede a player’s sight, although they don’t seem to bother Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or any of the other stars who somehow manage to score plenty of goals and make genius passes despite wearing a visor. But how full of macho stupidity would a player have to be to reject a mouthguard that not only protects your teeth, but could also decrease the likelihood of a concussion?
The NHL should make mouthguards mandatory. As manly and jarringly horrific as it was to see Belanger yank out his chopper, the league would be wise to try to protect its players from such terrible injuries.