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Crusading to prevent dental injuries

LOCKPORT-- "Operation Mouth Guard 2010" was created by a Lockport dentist, Dr. Todd Retell, who is on a mission to prevent traumatic, dental injuries from sports through the use of customized athletic mouth guards.

Mouth guards can help nearly eliminate tooth fractures, losses and sometimes even concussions. A good mouth guard might cushion one of those frequent blows to the jaw and help prevent subsequent injury to the brain.

Retell shared his message at Buffalo Niagara region schools, with coaches, teams, athletes, league managers, school administrators, school boards and youth sports enthusiasts.

His Lockport Dental Group and Medina Dental Group have put a program in place for Lockport Little League Baseball, and it's under discussion at Lockport High and DeSales Catholic schools.

The 1980 Starpoint High School salutatorian, who graduated from the University of Rochester with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience, says he's an avid sports fan, and so are his sons, Corey, 14, and Connor, 10. But Retell concedes that he's "frustrated by the widespread lack of prevention, an old-school mentality of coaches, parents and even administrators saying, 'We never had mouth guards when we were young. It's not necessary.' "

Retell said he sees "dozens of traumatic sports dental injuries a year" and wants to protect young people from damaging or losing their teeth.

For those who still don't think young sports players need mouth guards, Retell asks them to "imagine being 14" -- when even acne's tragic -- "and losing an adult front tooth."

Retell is assisted in his efforts by his partner, Dr. James Shaw, who graduated first in his class at the University at Buffalo's School of Dentistry in 1980. Other dental partners involved in the mouth-guard mission include Drs. Steven Stockton and William Langton in Medina.

>Tooth enamel's pretty tough, isn't it?

It's the hardest substance in the human body -- harder than bone. But it's still susceptible to fractures.

>We've read studies where success is linked to your smile?

And happiness.

>We're going to play devil's advocate for a bit -- why are you crusading against sports dental injuries -- wouldn't that potentially cut into your practice? And why couldn't athletes wear the kind of mouth guards found over-the-counter?

We have plenty of patients. Sports dental injuries have been a pet peeve of mine since entering dentistry. Our profession is structured around prevention -- decay, periodontal disease and so on -- of which sports injuries are a part. It's the smart thing to do.

I'm not at all worried. If I can save one child from the pain, trauma and lifelong dental complications, it's all worth it. It's smart -- like wearing seat belts.

I firmly believe if people feel I'm practicing dentistry with their best interest in mind, the business will always be there for me. Today's children are faced with such extreme challenges and expectations. They will mold the world's future. If I can educate them on better oral hygiene and the systemic efforts of it, I feel I've done my small part.

Over-the-counter guards are better than nothing. But you don't get the same fit, effectiveness and comfort as with a customized mouth guard. If it's uncomfortable, the mouth guard is going to sit in a kid's bag.

>You say you're a sports fan. Who's your hero?

I know it is cliche, but my mother [Dorothy] is unequivocally my hero. When my parents divorced, she became the backbone of our single-parent family. She dedicated her entire time and efforts to raising and providing for me and my sister during some very challenging times.

The two main challenges I faced growing up were the death of my younger sister, Sherrie, who had a congenital heart defect, and the divorce of my parents. Both occurrences have had extreme impacts on my appreciation for family life.

>Who was your favorite teacher at Starpoint?

My favorite teacher was Mr. Olick, my high school Advanced Placement social studies teacher. He was extremely demanding, but very fair. He got his point across but allowed you to be an individual and express yourself. He was a great motivator and educator.

>Why did you decide to become a dentist?

I decided to become a dentist after volunteering in a lot of health career situations. My goal was to assist people in a health care setting, be able to earn a reasonable living, but most important, be able to lead a dedicated family life -- spend some time with the kids and wife [Sandra]. While growing up, my family was constantly moving. We finally settled in Pendleton. Most of my small family was local, so I wanted to stay close to home.

>I attended the University at Buffalo Dental School and graduated in 1988.

While attending UB Dental School, Dr. James Shaw was one of my clinical instructors, and he asked me to join his group practice. The practice and ownership dynamics have changed over the years, but the philosophy has been steadfast: provide the best care possible and treat all patients as family members.

>Why is it important to take care of your teeth?

Our entire digestive system is reliant on the initial chewing of our food. But today we now know the systemic benefits of good oral health such as improved cardiac health, strong skeletal system, healthy pregnancies, and so on.

Being able to chew our food properly is only the beginning of properly breaking down our food.

Have an idea for the subject of a question-and-answer column? Write to: Louise Continelli, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail

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