USC University of Southern California

Protecting Trojan’s Teeth

During the next USC football game, try to spot the flash of gold as a Trojan calls out a play or smiles upon scoring a touchdown.

The gold in every Trojan’s smile is the work of endodontist Ramon Roges, director of the USC School of Dentistry Center for Urgent Care. Roges, the team’s dentist, spends every home game on the sidelines ready to help any player who suffers an oral injury. He has created the Trojans’ custom-fitted mouthguards for 10 years.

The mouthguards are made with a detailed impression taken of each player’s upper dental arch, which is used to make a cast around which the mouthguard is created. Two layers of resilient ethyl vinyl acetate — one gold and one clear, with a cardinal USC logo and the player’s name and number placed in between – are wrapped around the cast to form the guard. Then by hand, Roges then expertly trims, shapes and polishes the mouthguard to a perfect fit in a matter of seconds.

“I’ve been doing this for so long that I can almost do this with my eyes closed,” he jokes.

The perfect fit of the custom-made mouthguard means that it doesn’t budge from where it needs to be, even during the most grueling game day. Unlike homemade “boil and bite” mouthguards, the player can easily breathe, talk and, most importantly, avoid injury without the mouthguard slipping out of its proper position. With proper use, the mouthguard is tough enough to last an entire season, Roges says. The players appreciate the comfortable, well-fitted guards so much that several alumni who have gone on to play professional football have asked Roges to continue to make their mouthguards.

Contact sports like football bring a high risk of injury to the face and jaw, even when a helmet and face mask are worn. A mouthguard cannot only protect against painful, expensive injuries to teeth and gums but can also help dissipate the forces from a blow that can travel through the skull and cause brain injury, Roges says.

The Trojans’ head athletic trainer Russ Romano also understands the crucial roles mouthguards play.

“The mouthguards don’t just protect their teeth; they also act as shock absorbers to minimize stress from concussive hits,” Romano says. “So it is extremely important that our players have properly fitted mouthguards and that they always wear them.”

Every Trojan football player faithfully wears their custom mouthguard, but Roges adds that he sometimes sees players on other teams not wearing guards. He worries about their safety.

“We’re very lucky that all of the Trojans wear mouthguards. Our coaches and trainers want the very best protection for the players, and a custom-made mouthguard offers that,” he says. “The mouthguard is part of the USC uniform, just like pads and a helmet.”

Roges says that he and the others in the USC Sports Dentistry Program, including orthodontist Ralph Allman and dental assistants Virginia Guerrero and Gina Finch, work together to protect the most important part of game day.

“Our mission is to work together with the USC Athletic Department to protect their biggest asset: the student athlete,” Roges says. “We provide emergency, preventive, and comprehensive dental care to the USC student athlete that will allow them a safe and prompt return to practice and competition.”

Roges and his work with mouthguards is featured in the Autumn 2008 Issue of USC Health magazine.