Social proof is moving with the herd, mirroring what people around you are doing, going with the flow. Social proof is what makes you cross the street against the light because all of the people around you started moving. It's probably why I did not bother to get a mouthguard: no one else had one. Coaches did not insist on them or bring them up.
In adult beginner classes and hockey games, very few players wear mouthguards. Usually, the person that has one is wearing an older helmet with a half-shield visor. Without a mouthguard jammed in your jaws, it is easier to call out to someone on your team and easier to breathe. Nearly every novice player wears a full cage mask or fishbowl for face protection. No-hit adult beginner hockey is only valid if every player on the ice is competent at stopping or turning. In reality, there is a steep learning curve on reacting quickly and collisions happen.
I got hit head-on by someone in a bright orange jersey in a class scrimmage. There was a loose 50 / 50 puck along the boards that I knew I could get to and I saw him coming. Mister Orange barreled along to go for it. I hit the brakes, stopping on my left but was not fast enough to move out of his path and avoid a chest-to-chest blow that knocked me down. I was more annoyed than anything because, thankfully, my larger tangerine hued friend was pretty slow even trying to go full speed. He didn't even try to stop but I'm not sure is he knows how to stop, either. There was not a lot of force behind the blow and I got up fine and continued playing.
Go forward about a week and a back tooth starts to hurt, rapidly going from an ache to extremely painful. A rear molar took a blow when my jaws slammed together. A jolt like this will shock the root, which is a soft gummy nerve that gets killed. The interior of the tooth dies and rots. It hurts a lot. Next thing I know, I'm making phone calls looking for the lowest cash price I can find for a root canal since I lack a dental plan. The lowest cash price you can find on a root canal does not buy you a very good level of care. The problem needed a visit for diagnosis, a root canal, a hollow tooth fill, a visit to fix the hollow tooth filling, a temporary crown and a permanent crown. The total expense was $1200.
That cost a lot more than a $15 mouthguard.
Also, chewing food really sucked for the whole month. It was a month filled with Tylenol, Vicodin and self recrimination, laying awake on sleepless nights saying "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" to myself.
A full-cage mask does not prevent your teeth from slamming together. Beginner hockey players really should have a mouthguard in addition to full face protection. A mouthguard helps protect against concussions as well. Now that I am wearing a mouthguard in class scrimmages or rat hockey games, I feel how much I bite down into it if I get bumped or knocked down. Concentrating on the game, this was not something I particularly noticed before I had one.
Buying a mouthguard that fit turned out to be difficult. The sales rep in a big box sporting goods store sent me home with a Shock Doctor Gel Max adult model, which I learned after one game does not come remotely near fitting in my mouth. I bought a Shock Doctor Gel Max children's mouth guard which kind of fits but not in the sense of being able to close my mouth all the way.
If you buy a mouth guard, spend the extra money and buy the thinner varieties that are still rated as having a high level of protection; these retail from $15 - $30 in most stores. The thicker mouth guard is going to make you feel like a dog with a tennis ball jammed in your jaws. Women should look at the models made for children because I did not find any made for women, and my skull is apparently way smaller than "adult" size.
It has taken a while to get used to the change in air flow for breathing and verbal communication while wearing the thing. The mouthguard made me drool, choke on my own slobber, cough and generally have dry mouth for a while. They just take time to get used to when you are new to them. This is even with a brand that I heat-set to mold for a personalized fit. On the other hand, I totally get why NHLers chew and chomp on their mouthguards like bubble gum. There is something weirdly satisfying about doing that. Truth be told, I was always a fan of chewing gum and gnawing kind of relieves stress.
Friends in local beginner hockey circles seem a little incredulous when I tell them they should add a mouthguard to their gear. If you are skating without a mouthguard, consider this a cautionary tale.
Leave it to me to find another way to get hurt on the ice. Though this may help my street cred a little bit. At one year of involvement in novice hockey, I've managed to lose a tooth which is a classic emblem of having authentic experience.
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