NHL team dentist stitches players up, sends them back out

2014 05 07 09 47 41 313 2014 05 07 Goudy Ting 20140507165028

What kind of dentist would want an unpaid job treating patients who consider missing teeth a badge of honor?

Meet Donald L. Goudy Jr., DDS, the official team dentist for the NHL's San Jose Sharks who provides emergency treatment for players who probably suffer more injuries -- oral and otherwise -- than any other professional athletes.

"Someone is injured every other game," Dr. Goudy explained to DrBicuspid.com. "But that includes everything -- from getting hit in the foot with the puck to concussions. It runs the whole gamut."

The image of tough hockey players getting their teeth knocked out, spitting them out, and continuing to play isn't too far off.

"Their teeth usually end up in the Zamboni," he laughed, referring to the machine used to resurface the ice.

Dr. Donald L. Goudy Jr. and Arthur Ting, MD, orthopedic surgeon and head physician for the San Jose Sharks, work on a player who's still wearing his skates.Dr. Donald L. Goudy Jr. and Arthur Ting, MD, orthopedic surgeon and head physician for the San Jose Sharks, work on a player who's still wearing his skates.
Dr. Donald L. Goudy Jr. and Arthur Ting, MD, orthopedic surgeon and head physician for the San Jose Sharks, work on a player who's still wearing his skates.

During games, Dr. Goudy treats injured players from both teams in a small office near the Sharks' training room that's barely large enough to fit a dental chair.

But the priority is providing enough treatment to get players back in the game.

"We bring them back, remove any loose pieces, numb them up, and they go back out," Dr. Goudy said.

Coaches are often peeking around the corner, checking to see if the injured player can get back on the ice, especially if he's a big-time player.

"They're rotating their lines so they need to know when that player is going to be back," Dr. Goudy said. "And if it's somebody like Logan Couture or Joe Thornton, they're hawking the room sometimes, they're so anxious to get them back."

He has custom-fitted mouthpieces for all players on hand, whether they wear them or not. "They put them on to protect the injury and they're sent back out on the ice, and then you deal with it between periods or after the game. So my job being there is just to get them out on the ice as fast as possible, where they're not going to do any more harm to themselves."

The majority of treatment Dr. Goudy provides for the players include crowns and prostheses, especially for the front of their mouths.

Most of the players, like center Joe Thornton, have several implants from getting their teeth knocked, so Dr. Goudy makes "breakaway" teeth that can be easily and quickly replaced when the inevitable happens again.

"When I had the original set of implant teeth made to fit the implants, I had them make two sets because I knew eventually he'd knock out the first set," Dr. Goudy said of Thornton. "So in one game he got hit, spit his teeth out, and we jumped in my car immediately following the game and drove to my office. It took me 15 minutes to put his new set of teeth in because I already had them."

He and Thornton have become friends and play golf together.

Are the players really as tough as they seem? "They are unbelievably tough gentlemen," Dr. Goudy said. "I don't think I've met any of them that weren't tough. But if their broken tooth has had a root canal, they'll have pain from the impact but no nerve pain, so it depends on the injury and the teeth involved."

San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau.San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau.
San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau.

Hockey players are a different breed than the prima donna athletes that one sees in many professional sports, Dr. Goudy said.

"They're great; they're the most humble, wonderful guys you'll ever imagine," he said. "They're very appreciative of what they have; they're all just well-bred. Every once in a while you'll get somebody who has the pretentiousness of the other sports, but they're few and far between."

Dr. Goudy got the job in 2005 when his predecessor, Robert Bonahoom, DDS, decided after the 2005 lockout he didn't want to do it anymore. When forward Patrick Marleau heard the heard the team was looking for a replacement dentist, he suggested his own dentist, Dr. Goudy, who had been lobbying for the job.

"I used to ask him all the time, 'Get me in there, I want to do it!' " he said.

Dr. Goudy has always been a hockey fan and went to the Blackhawks games when he lived in Chicago and attended the Northwestern University Dental School. When he set up practice in his hometown of San Jose, he became a huge fan of the Sharks.

He goes to all the playoff games but doesn't go to all home games now that he has four young children at home.

"Now I just watch some games, and if I see somebody go down, grabbing at his mouth I know I'll probably have to go in, and I'm only 10 minutes away from the 'Shark Tank,' " Dr. Goudy notes (the Sharks' home arena, the SAP Center, is known as the Shark Tank).

Usually, there's an emergency room physician and an orthopedic surgeon on hand, especially during the playoffs. "So the players are well-covered, and paramedics also are waiting with a direct line to O'Connor Hospital," he said.

San Jose Sharks poster signed by players.San Jose Sharks poster signed by players.
San Jose Sharks poster signed by players.

Dr. Goudy also maintains a full-time private practice, and some patients search him out because of his experience treating trauma injuries.

So why, in a sport that sees so many facial and oral injuries, do players routinely eschew wearing mouthguards? Why do only 40% of Sharks players use them?

"I don't know," Dr. Goudy said. "They do what they want to do. Joe Thornton didn't wear one before he was injured in front of his mouth, but now he wears one. So they have to learn a lesson, I guess."

Besides protecting teeth, mouthguards also prevent concussions, he noted.

A lot of concussions involve the "glass jaw" syndrome, like when boxers get hit in the jaw and get knocked out, which results from the impact between the lower jaw and the upper skull, Dr. Goudy explained.

"Mouthpieces brace that impact," he noted. "A boxer with a good mouthpiece is more resistant to getting knocked out. A lot of damage occurs when the lower teeth hit the upper teeth, so it provides a pad in there."

Face shields are now mandatory for new players but not the older players. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," Dr. Goudy mused. But he also pointed out that players who wear them aren't allowed to initiate fights.

"A lot of the guys who are the enforcers, the fighters, won't wear face shields because it's an added penalty if they fight with a shield on," he said. "Nowadays, the young guys just take their helmets off, which is terrible because in fights a guy can bang the back of his head on the ice."

The worst injury Dr. Goudy has seen in the eight years he's been with the Sharks was when a referee got hit in the eye with a puck.

"He was standing behind the net and a slapshot hit him right in the eye. It was bad, the worst I've seen," Dr. Goudy recalled. "He probably got 60 to 80 stitches around his eye. But he's fine now and has his sight."

Once a year, during the all-star break, all the physicians and dentists from the NHL teams get together, attend lectures, and discuss what's going on in the league. Every team has to have somebody who has been trained in last two years on advanced trauma life support, Dr. Goudy noted.

His children are big hockey fans, especially his three sons.

"My boys skate every single day out in the front yard on Rollerblades, wearing hockey gear top to bottom," Dr. Goudy said. "I try to take them to a lot of games, but it's tough because most of the games start at bedtime for my boys."

And he often still straps on the in-line skates himself for a game with his kids.

"Today I'm completely sore, because two days ago I played hockey with them for two hours in the front yard. I have all my gear on, too. We put two nets out, and you gotta keep skating back and forth. I can barely move, I'm so sore," Dr. Goudy laughed, "but it's pretty fun."

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