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Discarded Teeth

May 18, 2010

James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail recently wrote an interesting article detailing the dental horrors that often occur within the NHL. While this is always expected to happen and hockey players are known for their “smiles“, it was a rather eye-opening piece on how ugly some of these injuries can become.

The article gives an account from the Washington Capitals’ team dentist as he encountered an injury Chris Clark sustained in 2006. Clark, the Captials’ captain at the time, broke his palate bone. The dentist claims that when he went to attend to Clark, his palate bone was essentially sitting in the back of his throat.

Most of the team dentists claimed that hockey injuries were only second to car accidents in the severity of the injury. In some cases, a player can be under so much pain that they find themselves unable to walk after sustaining a dental injury. This is due mainly to the high amount of nerves in the teeth as compared to the rest of the body.

Yet, these are the injuries that “tough” players are supposed to shake off and finish the game with. An odd double standard seems to exist where dental pain is meaningless, but if that injury were to instead happen somewhere else, the player isn’t necessary expected to play on.

My only explanation for how this is possible primarily deals with the fact that teeth are not a needed to play hockey, but arms and legs are. This doesn’t excuse the perceptions of some, but merely provides a possible answer.

So what is the correct response to this problem?

Mandatory face shields? The NCAA already uses this rule, but I highly doubt given the tough guy mentality of NHL hockey that this rule will find its way into the league.

Mandatory mouth guards? While I thought all players wore mouth guards, this article enlightened me on the fact that many players abstain from wearing one.

What about the sticks?

As odd as it may sound, the sticks may be a major contributor to the high amount of these facial injuries. The sticks used now are harder than the older wooden ones, as some are now reinforced with Kevlar. Additionally, the new shafts provide less accuracy than their wooden counterparts, meaning there is a higher chance of the puck finding its way towards a person’s mouth.

Or perhaps it’s the old standby of this being Gary Bettman’s fault.

In the article, former NHL player Keith Tkachuk claims that the league’s emphasis on offense has led to increased shots on goal and therefore, more chances to get hit in the mouth with a puck.

While the solution to this issue may never come, I’m going to move to the comfort zone and just blame Bettman. Screw you, Bettman.

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