Play it Safe: Four Ways to Prevent Facial Injuries

Spring has certainly sprung and with the new season comes warmer weather, blooming flowers and spring sports. While youth sports like soccer and baseball are well-underway, spring training for fall sports like football are also in full bloom.

The CDC reports more than 2.6 million children are treated in emergency rooms each year for sports-related injuries, many of which are facial injuries.

“The mouth and face of a child or young adult can easily be injured if the proper precautions are not used while participating in sports,” said Jeremy Warhaftig, MD, Chief of Pediatrics, South Shore Medical Center. “Fortunately, vast improvements in the quality of protective equipment—such as padding and helmets—have made sports participation safer, but players and parents need to take the lead in proper protection whether mandated or recommended.”

Young athletes participating in spring sports that use a small ball such as tennis, baseball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse are particularly vulnerable to head and facial injuries due to the high velocity of the ball.

The best way to treat facial sports injuries is to prevent them. The following list of four pieces of protective equipment should be used when applicable to prevent or lessen a young athlete’s risk for facial injuries:

  1. Mouth Guard. Just like you wouldn’t let your child go up to bat without a helmet or run into lacrosse practice without arm pads—mouth guards are critical for protecting your child’s smile. Studies show that athletes who don’t wear mouth guards are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth. A properly fitted mouth guard can help prevent many accidents and traumatic injuries to a person’s jaw, mouth and teeth during contact sports. While dentists and dental specialists can make customized mouth guards, which provide the best fit, there are other less-expensive options available to still give you good protection. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 84 percent of children do not wear mouth guards while playing organized sports because they are not required to wear them—even though they may be required to wear other protective materials, such as helmets and shoulder pads. At a time when a good football helmet or lacrosse stick may cost upwards of $200 each, mouth guards can be one of the least expensive pieces of protective gear.
  2. Helmet. Helmets absorb the energy of an impact and help prevent damage to the head. They are mandatory in many sports including high school football, baseball, softball and boys’ lacrosse. Though they are designed to prevent skull fractures, they do not prevent concussions. When using a helmet, it’s critical that it’s properly fitted. A youth coach or athletic trainer can help ensure proper fitting.
  3. Protective Eyewear. Eyes are extremely vulnerable to damage, especially when playing sports. While goggles are optional in most sports, certain sports like field hockey and girls’ lacrosse are either mandated or highly recommended depending on where you live. In other sports like tennis, wearing goggles can offer protection to both your eyes and the delicate bones surrounding them. In basketball or football, protective goggles are important, especially for players who have had a previous eye injury. For competitive swimmers, goggles can offer eye protection from chemicals or other irritants in the water and can facilitate better underwater vision.
  4. Face Shield. Avoid damage to the delicate bones around the eyes, nose and jaw. Many sports with balls or pucks can cause severe facial damage at any age. Full face shields offer greater protection than half shields and have been proven to reduce the incidence and severity of head injury.

Play it safe and make sure the most valuable players in your life are protected! Protecting your face and head from sports-related injuries means taking the time to wear all appropriate equipment and be sure it’s properly fitted. If you’re unsure about what protective gear you need for your sport, consult with your child’s coach or athletic trainer.

Dr. Jeremy Warhaftig is a pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center and is currently accepting new patients. He sees patients in our Norwell and Kingston offices. To learn more about him and other South Shore Medical Center pediatricians who are accepting new patients, visit our website. If you’d like to register yourself or a family member as a new patient, call 781-681-1686 or request a call from a new patient registration specialist.


Learn more about Primary Care at South Shore Health.