I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Bill Blair to learn more about sports dentistry as a career and investigate the injuries that go hand-in-hand with the sport that is famous for dental injury. Dr. Blair has been the dentist for the National Hockey League team the Calgary Flames since 1985. He has also served as president of the Calgary District and Dental Society, President of the Alberta Dental Association, as well as Executive Council Member for the Canadian Dental Association. Currently the President of the NHL Team Dentist Association, Dr. Blair is a consultant in forensic odontology to the chief medical examiner in Alberta, Canada, as well the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Calgary Police Service and Chief Coroner of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Not Your Average Dental OfficeProfessional hockey organizations have several medical personnel on staff to ensure the players remain at their optimum performance level. The medical team includes a dentist who is in attendance at every game, ready to treat players that have suffered a dental injury on the ice.
During the NHL regular season, injuries sustained during a game by either team are treated by the home team's dentist. When the playoffs begin and the teams strategy is under lock and key, the dentist accompanies the medical team on the road to provide direct care. Dr. Blair says, "Everybody keeps their cards closer to their vest as far as injuries are concerned, we don't want the opposition to know our injuries, and they don't want us to know theirs."
How are dental injuries treated during a game, considering most arenas are generally not capable of housing the equipment necessary to perform a restoration, not to mention the player with the injury is determined to get back on the ice? According to Dr. Blair, the first priority is always, "Immediate relief of pain; hockey players are paid to play hockey. It is our job to get them back on the ice as soon and as quickly as possible. The treatment that takes place at the game might be only a temporary fix to get them back in the game and then more involved, more detailed treatment will take place here in the [dental] office after the game or the next day."
Just Another Day at the Office- Treating Dental Injuries in the NHLThe most common injuries Dr. Blair treats during a game are lacerations, closely followed by damage to the maxillary incisiors. Considering no current mandate forces players in the NHL to wear a mouthguard on the ice, these injuries are not surprising.
Perhaps the new breed of young hockey stars entering the NHL are setting the example for mouthguard wear. According to the Academy for Sports Dentistry, "On a national level all states generally mandate mouthguard use in high school football, ice hockey, men's lacrosse, field hockey, and amateur boxing. Different states have mandated mouthguard use for other sports." Entering the professional realm of sporting does not necessarily mean that players forgo wearing a mouthguard because of their new found fame. The 2008 training camp for the Calgary Flames proves that mouthguard wear is on the rise, according to Dr. Blair, "The numbers are higher every year. This year I think we made 55 mouthguards -- that covers all the different players that came in at different levels." The tough guy mentality has been, and always will be, part of a players strategy, but when it comes to mouthguard wear, "The person that does not wear a mouthguard is getting to be in the minority."
The estimated number of teeth lost every year to sports-related injury is alarming. As Dr. Blair points out, "I read a paper not too long ago that said it is estimated that over 5 million teeth are lost a year to sports injury; at all levels, and what you are dealing with, basically is the aesthetic zone." The aesthetic zone is the area of the mouth that is visible when smiling. The "hockey look" characterized by missing and broken teeth, is a reality for many players in the NHL, although that trend seems to be a thing of the past. Dr. Blair is quick to point out that, "In hockey players or in some sports, it's almost a badge of courage to be missing some teeth; but not anymore, things are changing. There are far fewer missing teeth now in hockey players from when I first started, because they have an appreciation of the dentition and the aesthetic; and its not necessarily the badge of courage to be showing as toothless."
Shawn Watson Interview with Dr. Bill Blair. March 23, 2009.