Why Do Hockey Players Lose Teeth? Teeth Casualties in Hockey

Posted on April 14, 2024 by Dan Kent
goalie penalty

When you think of the prototypical hockey player, the image that comes to mind may be a rugged warrior with missing teeth. 

Hockey is a high-speed contact game, so losing teeth is a reality that players face. But what can players do to protect themselves from this painful injury? And can mouthguards really save your teeth? We'll look into the answers here.

Is it common for hockey players to lose teeth?

For hockey players who wear only a half visor or no facial protection on their helmet, losing teeth is possible whenever you step on the ice. Hits to the mouth can come from opponents with reckless sticks, high shots, and collisions with other players. 

It is most common for the front teeth of a hockey player to be missing, primarily because of the impact of a stick to the face.

hockey player

How do you prevent losing teeth in hockey?

You must wear a full face shield or a metal cage attached to the helmet to completely protect your teeth. Mouthguards provide further protection for your teeth but are mainly intended to reduce the impact of your teeth knocking together during a collision.

Unless you are injured in the NHL, you cannot wear a full face shield or visor. It is unclear why this is a rule, but if I were to guess, it is so that the fans can see the familiar faces of their favourite superstar players.

Would full cages or visors prevent injuries, lost teeth, and, ultimately, trips to the dentist? Absolutely. But I don't expect the NHL to implement any rule allowing players to do so. And even if they did, I cannot imagine many players would utilize a full face shield or visor, as it impacts their vision and ultimately leads to lower performance.

Are most NHL players missing teeth?

If by most you mean the majority, yes, most NHL players are missing teeth. Over half the league, and potentially upwards of 80% of the league, has suffered some injury resulting in lost or chipped teeth.

You would be fortunate if you could make it through an entire NHL career without losing or chipping a tooth.

Why do hockey players not replace their teeth?

Because hockey is a physical game and the odds of a player losing teeth or having their teeth impacted in some way is more likely, many players do not feel the need to replace their teeth during their playing careers.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Why would a player replace teeth during their playing career when the odds are they will lose them again?

Do NHL players get fake teeth?

Many NHL players have fake teeth, yes. However, they are often removed, if possible, for the games. When you see a player on the ice with one or even multiple missing teeth, this is not necessarily how they will walk around in public or during their everyday lives.

Why do hockey players remove their teeth?

Many NHL players will have fake teeth made to wear around in public. However, they often remove them for games. They do this so that the fake teeth they do have are not impacted during the game. With the potential for mouth-related injuries so high in the NHL, there is little point in wearing fake teeth during the game.

As a result, they'll remove them and put them back in when the game is over.

Do mouthguards protect teeth in hockey?

You likely assume that a mouthguard is used to protect your teeth from the plays that would damage them. This is only partly true. The mouthguard mainly prevents your teeth from crashing against each other when you're involved in a collision. It is thought that this also helps prevent concussions, but this notion is sometimes challenged by experts.

Mouthguards offer partial protection for the teeth if you get hit in the mouth.

The mouthguard only covers the top row of teeth, as the player "bites" from the top to keep it in place. This leaves the bottom row of teeth especially vulnerable to hits to the face.

A hard hit directly to the mouth will very likely also break teeth, even if  a mouthguard is worn. The mouthguard is only a thin layer of rubber coverage for the teeth and is not intended to save them from hard direct hits!

Players who don't wear full facial protection run the risk of losing teeth. This includes players who wear mouthguards without additional protection. Wearing a visor or no facial protection can be convenient and add style to your on-ice appearance, but you should know the risks of doing so!

A mouthguard should be worn to maximize the protection of your teeth, but don't rely on it to save your teeth from hard hits without the protection of a face shield or full cage.

Read on – if you want to learn more about the dangers of hockey.

Do NHL players have to wear mouthguards?

No rule says a professional hockey player must wear a mouthguard. However, the vast majority of the league, reported to be more than 90%, do wear them.

Not wearing a mouth guard exposes a player to much more risk than losing teeth. Hockey sticks to the mouth or a hard check resulting in the top and bottom teeth impacting each other can cause many jaw and oral injuries, such as someone cutting their tongue, gums, or cheeks.

Because the NHL is such a fast-paced sport with large players, wearing mouthguards is imperative, as the potential for extensive injury is even higher than in slower recreational leagues. This is why 90% of the league does wear them.

The gap-toothed hockey player

NHLers like Brent Burns and Drew Doughty exemplify the look of a hockey player: long hair, a beard… and several missing teeth! It is somewhat of a badge of honor to them.

If you watch an NHL hockey game, you'll notice that all the skaters only wear a half visor. This leaves the lower half of the face unprotected.

As a result, it is not uncommon for players to lose and break teeth in games. High sticks are the most common cause, but pucks to the mouth do happen and can cause very serious damage.

Aside from the goalies, NHLers do not wear the full facial protection that a face shield or cage offers. One of these two options is mandatory for youth, college, and women's hockey.

In recreational hockey, you will encounter a mix of half visors, face shields, cages, and plain helmets with no additional protection. Most adult leagues and casual games let players choose what they feel comfortable wearing.

Young players are protected with a half visor / half cage.

Why risk losing teeth

For NHLers, the answer mostly boils down to toughness and tradition. Skaters have never worn full facial protection, so if someone was the first to do so, they would be treated differently.

Players also appreciate the freedom of access to their faces while playing.

Players grew up playing with face shields and cages, which must be undone to have the face uncovered – for a drink of water, or to wipe away sweat, etc. Going down to a half visor is a luxury for players when they reach adulthood.

Other players see losing teeth as "part of the game" – one of hockey's risks they're willing to live with. Some may also like the appearance of the half visor look.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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