Heather Rinow had seen enough injuries to the mouth while playing ice hockey that she knew she didn't want to be among them.
"I've seen girls get hurt a ton of times. They come off the ice shaking like a leaf and can't stand up," said Rinow, who played for Nichols. "They have to be helped off the ice, they black out. It can get really bad."
Rinow, always preferring to leave the ice under her own power, took a proactive approach trying to avoid, or at least lesson the severity, of taking one in the chops.
Rinow wears a professional, custom-fitted mouth guard that gives her the protection she needs as well as peace of mind. She played four years for the Nichols varsity, scoring 17 goals in 30 games this past winter, and plans to continue her career at Oswego State in the fall while majoring in biology.
Mouth guards are made of soft plastic and cover the teeth and gums to prevent and reduce injury. They are mandated in New York State for contact sports like football, hockey, field hockey and lacrosse.
Rinow purchased her mouth guard at Lancaster Dental Associates. The practice at 5744 Broadway in Lancaster is currently running a special until May 10 offering a custom-fitted mouth guard for $5 (regularly $30), including taking an impression. They can even be made using an athlete's school colors.
Rinow said the fit was so good she was occasionally questioned by referees to see if she was actually wearing one.
"It didn't make my upper lip stick out, it just fits so nice," she said. "In girls [hockey] you can't hit, but there is contact and sometimes your jaws can slam together. I don't understand why more people don't wear them. They're so light and you don't even notice it's in your mouth."
Dr. Charles Marchetta started his Lancaster practice in 1982. He said the $5 mouth guards is one way of giving back to the youth of the community.
He said mouth guards have come a long way since the boil-and-bite variety purchased at a local sporting goods stores. Those were bulky, lacked retention and sometimes caused gagging. They weren't made sport-specific, and their design didn't consider the level of competition or if an athlete had any previous dental injury.
"You can't find a soccer player that can wear a boil-and-bite mouth guard and run down the length of the field and keep it in his mouth," said Marchetta. "They cut the back ends off because they don't fit. Then they just show the anterior teeth so the coaches thinks they have it in, yet it's not giving them any protection. The custom-made mouth guards will fit better, stay in place, you can actually breathe with them. That's part of the problem you see with kids is they don't want to wear them because they just don't fit."
Marchetta said a properly-fitting mouth guard helps with concussions, supports the teeth and gum tissue and can even be fitted for athletes who wear braces.
It's estimated by the American Dental Association that mouth guards worn in football prevent approximately 200,000 injuries each year in high school and college.
Sophomore Hayden Schonert plays football and basketball at Lancaster and says he's been wearing a mouth guard since he started playing competitive football in seventh grade.
"It makes you feel a lot safer," said Schonert. "It fits perfect, it's comfortable, you can breath and you can talk. A few times I've gotten hit and you kind of bite down and even if something happens, you know it could have been a lot worse."
Senior Marisso Faso of the Nichols girls lacrosse team was thankful she was wearing a custom-fitted mouth guard last year when someone from another team checked her across the face with their stick.
"She kind of hit me in the chin and that's kind of like the only time you notice your mouth guard is there," she said. "Even in hockey when you get a hard hit you kind of bite down, the mouth guard is there to protect you from biting your tongue and furthermore from getting a concussion."
Faso, named All-Western New in field hockey last fall, has signed with Division II Mercyhurst. She said before she leaves for college she'll go back to Lancaster Dental Associates for a blue and white mouth guard, her new school colors.
"When I first went to get it molded I was kind of like, 'I dunno, this is going to be kind of stupid, like I don't even know why I need this,' and then playing all the different sports with it, you can really tell the difference."
> Chew on this
What: Custom-fitted mouth guards.
Who: Athletes of all ages and sizes.
Cost: $5 (includes impression). Offer expires: May 10.
Where: Lancaster Dental Associates, 5755 Broadway, Lancaster, NY 14086.
Available through: Dr. Charles Marchetta, Dr. Kevin Flanigan, Dr. Paul DiBenedetto, Dr. Richard Medico, Dr. Kevin Hrab.
For an appointment: 683-0891 or visit: www.idapc.com.