Dentist Steven Katz Is Outfitting CMSD Football Players with Customized Mouth Guards 

On Friday, Dr. Steven Katz, Dr. Tom Coreno and a team of volunteer dentists examined the mouths of football players from three Cleveland Public High Schools. They're out to improve mouth safety on the football field and they've secured the funding to achieve their goals. Katz took a break from his jam-packed day cleaning cavities in Beachwood to chat with Scene about the program and to delineate the hierarchy of mouthguards for this bewildered correspondent. It's unlikely that Dr. Katz's local efforts will staunch the bleeding in dentists' gaping PR wound caused by Dr. Walter Palmer, but thanks to this program, CMSD athletes have a new reason to smile.

So how'd the examinations go Friday?

It was great. They brought the kids to Case on Friday and we made impressions of their teeth, gave them hygiene instructions, talked to them about nutrition, screened them for cavities, anomalies, referred them to dentists if necessary, and then sent them on their way.

Sounds like one hell of an interactive field trip.

Well yeah, exactly, except they were just lying there. We were the ones doing the interacting. They were great and appreciative, and everyone was just really happy to be there.

You did the football players from three schools, correct?

Correct. We started with John Hay, John F. Kennedy and Rhodes High School, and between them we did somewhere between 100-110 impressions for mouthguards. This is a three-year program. So over the next two years we're going to do the additional six schools in the district. We're going to make sure we get all of them.

What's the benefit of a customized mouthguard as opposed to something you'd just pick up at Dick's?

There are several benefits, but if you think about it, when you buy something at Dick's, the plastic mouthguard that goes into anybody's mouth, it doesn't fit. How could it possibly? It's just a piece of plastic. They make a small, medium and a large.

Sounds totally bush league.

The next type of mouthguard is called a boil and bite.

A Boylan Bite?

You throw it in hot water and it melts the plastic and then you put it in your mouth and bite on it and it molds to your teeth.

Aha--boil and bite.

It's way better than that first one, but what happens over time is that it stretches and modifies. It gets lumpy in places and thin in other places. There's no way to make it consistent.

And what's your version?

What we do is we make an impression of the athlete's teeth and then pour up a model out of stone. Then the lab technician makes a custom mouthguard that fits this athlete specifically. It's like a fingerprint. Nobody's teeth are the same.  

You hear a lot about concussions in football, but not so much about mouth injuries. Is it as much of a concern?

It's a huge concern. And understand that the Ohio High School Athletic Association requires that athletes wear a mouthguard, but it doesn't make a requirement for the specific kind of mouthguard. Sometimes you'll see players come off the field and hand their mouthguard to another player.


How gross is that? Not only does it not protect his teeth, but the hygiene is horrible. Think of that. But if they want to play high school sports, they have to have something in their mouth. With a custom-made mouthguard, because the teeth are protected so well, the likelihood of injury is way less. And it's not just teeth. It's all the oral structures: the jaw, the gum tissue and even the tongue.

And are these puppies free for the students?

It's completely free for the students. We had 15 volunteer dentists and 15 volunteer dental students. We received grants from the American Dental Association Foundation and the Greater Cleveland Society Foundation, and some supplies from a few other organizations.

Why did this strike you as an important project to pursue?

My friend Dr. Tom Coreno is the team dentist for the Chagrin Falls' athletic teams. He did a program similar to this almost 15 years ago. They provided mouthguards to the Glenville football team. He explained to me the need, and I said why can't we do this on a bigger scale? Glenville was the big school back then. Ginn was there and they had all the notoriety, so it was exciting to do Glenville, but there are eight other schools where the boys need mouthguards. And he said we can do it, we just need to get the funding and put everything together. You know it sounds so cliche, but it's really just about giving back. When  you see these kids, and they're smiling and so appreciative, you realize: This is a really great thing.

I gotta figure CMSD is grateful as well.

It was something to the effect of: You mean you guys are willing to put $250 mouthguards on our athletes at no cost to them? Tell us when to be there and we'll make sure it happens.

Are they honestly that expensive?

If you went to your dentist and had one made, it could cost anywhere from $250-$400.

Holy smokes.

And some dentists, like my friend, he'll basically just charge his costs, probably $70, but he's just doing it as a service. Ordinarily, it's gonna cost you at least a few hundred dollars.

Aside from the mouthguards, how's the dental health of the students you examined?

On the forms, we asked when was the last time they'd been to the dentist, and a lot of the kids we examined didn't know. It had been that long. So for whatever reason, it's not a priority. And it was interesting. The coaches were almost more interested and concerned about that than they were about the mouthguards. And I can completely sympathize: What do you mean you haven't been to the dentist in six years? But the overall impression was that we didn't see a lot of really bad mouths.  Maybe it's because nowadays these kids have fluoride and the teeth are a lot stronger, but we didn't see a ton of cavities and missing teeth and things like that.

That's a relief. And soon they'll have some really deluxe mouthguards.

Yeah, we're delivering them in two weeks, taking them to the individual athletes at the schools. The mouthguards are going to be in their school colors. It's going to be a really exciting thing.


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