Anyone who participates in a sport that carries a significant risk of injury should wear a mouth protector. All sports like basketball, baseball, gymnastics, and volleyball all pose risks to your gum tissues, as well as your teeth. We usually think of football and hockey as the most dangerous to the teeth, but nearly half of sports-related mouth injuries occur in basketball and baseball.
A mouth guard can prevent serious injuries such as concussions, cerebral hemorrhages, incidents of unconsciousness, jaw fractures and neck injuries by helping to avoid situations where the lower jaw gets jammed into the upper jaw. Mouth guards are effective in moving soft issue in the oral cavity away from the teeth, preventing laceration and bruising of the lips, tongue, cheeks, and injuries to soft tissues of your mouth, especially for those who wear orthodontic appliances. Mouth protectors, which typically cover the upper teeth, can cushion a blow to the face, minimizing the risk of chipped and broken teeth, nerve damage to a tooth, or even tooth loss.
Who Needs a Mouth Guard?
Mouth guards should be used by anyone — both children and adults — who play contact sports such as football, boxing, soccer, basketball and baseball. However, even those participating in noncontact sports (for example, gymnastics) and any recreational activity (for example, skateboarding, mountain bike and dirt bike riding) that might pose a risk of injury to the mouth would benefit from wearing a protective mouth guard.
Mouth guards are mandated for some sports such as football. Injuries can still occur with mouth guards in place because players may not be aware of the best type of device or wear one that is the wrong size. Poor fit results, and the athlete can suffer injury as a result. If you have a question as to whether or not your mouth guard is adequately protecting your teeth or your child’s, seek the advice of your dentist or orthodontist.
What Are the Different Types of Mouth Guards?
No matter which type of mouth guard you choose, it should be resilient, tear-resistant and comfortable. It should also fit properly and not restrict your speech or breathing. The three types of mouth guards are as follows:
Stock mouth guards — are preformed and come ready to wear. They are inexpensive and can be bought at most sporting good stores and department stores. However, little can be done to adjust their fit, they are bulky and make breathing and talking difficult and they provide little or no protection. Most dentists do not recommend their use.
Boil and bite mouth guards — These come in a pre-formed shape that can be altered by boiling the mouth guard in water, then biting into the warm plastic for a customized fit. They can be bought at many sporting goods stores, and may offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure. These can be bulky and hinder breathing.
Custom-made mouth guards — These are individually designed and made in your dentist’s office or a professional dental laboratory. Not surprisingly, they are likely to provide the most comfortable fit and best protection. Your dentist makes an impression of your teeth and then constructs the mouth guard over a model of them. Due to the use of special material and because of the extra time and work involved, they fit and feel better and most athletes prefer these customized mouth guards, which also means that they will probably wear them more often.
Can I Wear a Mouth Guard if I Wear Braces?
Yes. Since an injury to the face could damage orthodontic brackets or other fixed appliances, a properly fitted mouth guard may be particularly important for people who wear braces or have fixed bridge work. A mouth protector also provides a barrier between the braces and your cheek or lips, limiting the risk of soft tissue injuries. Although mouth protectors typically only cover the upper teeth, your dentist or orthodontist may suggest that you use a mouth protector on the lower teeth if you have braces on these teeth too.
How Do I Care for My Mouth Guard?
To care for your mouth guard:
Rinse your mouth guard with cold water or with a mouth rinse before and after each use and/or clean it with toothpaste and a toothbrush.
Occasionally clean the mouth guard in cool, soapy water and rinse it thoroughly.
Protect the mouth guard from high temperatures — such as hot water, hot surfaces, or direct sunlight -- to minimize distorting its shape.
Occasionally check the mouth guard for general wear. If you find holes or tears in it or if it becomes loose or causes discomfort, replace it.
Bring the mouth guard to each regularly scheduled dental visit to have your dentist exam it.
How Long Should Mouth Guards Last?
Mouth guards should ideally be replaced after each season because they can wear down over time, making them less effective. Replacement is especially important for adolescents because their mouths continue to grow and teeth continue to develop into adulthood. Many athletes who play several sports have new mouth guards made when they go for their six-month dental checkup.
Your dentist can suggest the best mouth guard for you. An effective mouth guard should be comfortable, resist tears, be durable and easy to clean, and should not restrict your breathing or speech. Remember to call your dentist or orthodontist to schedule a consultation for your specific dental needs.