In a recent survey, the AAO discovered that 70% of parents said their biggest fear is that their child will get hurt while playing organized sports. These fears are not unfounded: sports-related injuries are the leading cause of emergency room visits in 12- to 17-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. And yet, 67% of parents admitted that their child does not wear a mouthguard during organized sports including football, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse.

To get the message out that protective sports gear such as mouthguards can make a big difference in reducing or preventing sports injuries, the AAO has launched a Sport Safety Education Campaign with football Hall of Famer, father, and sport-safety advocate, Emmitt Smith.

"Unfortunately, many parents, kids, and coaches don´t realize the damage a ball or on-field collision can do until it’s too late," said AAO president Robert J. Bray, DDS, MS. "As experts in helping patients achieve a healthy, beautiful smile, the last thing my colleagues and I want to see is a smile ruined by a preventable injury."

To kick off the AAO Sport Safety Campaign, Smith visited Carol Middle School in Miami to meet with students and discuss the importance of facial protection and distribute mouth guards. "As an athlete and father, this campaign is close to my heart. I know how important it is to be safe on the playing field," Smith said. "You can’t play if you’re injured, and not wearing facial protection dramatically increases your chances of sustaining injuries."

Smith is also starring in a new sport-safety themed poster and Web site for the AAO designed to educate parents about the importance of sport safety and facial protection.

To help parents and coaches, the AAO has four quick tips for keeping kids safe during sport activities. Kids and athletes can “Play It Safe” by remembering to:

1) wear mouthguards during contact sports;
2) wear a helmet;
3) wear protective eyewear; and
4) wear a face shield to avoid scratched or bruised skin.