More than 5 million teeth are knocked out each year through sports injury, accident, or play. Just as helmets, shoulder pads, and kneepads are worn to protect against sports-related injuries, mouthguards are an equally important piece of protective gear.
As the name implies, mouthguards help prevent injury to the mouth area, especially to the teeth, lips, cheeks, and tongue. One of the most underrated and overlooked benefits of a well-fitting mouthguard is its ability to protect against head and neck injuries by cushioning blows that could otherwise cause concussions or jaw fractures.
In Massachusetts, mouthguards are required in football, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and wrestling. Dentists generally recommend that adults and children wear mouthguards during all sports in which injury to the mouth may occur, such as basketball, baseball and even in-line skating or skateboarding. Athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer damage to the mouth when not wearing a mouthguard. Each year, mouthguards prevent approximately 200,000 mouth and face injuries.
There are three different styles of mouthguards. Each one is different in comfort, fit, and cost. Be sure to consult with your dentist to determine which mouthguard is best for you. Most dentists recommend that athletes wear custom-made mouthguards when participating in contact sports because they offer the best protection and are considered the most comfortable to wear.
This type of mouthguard is by far the best type in terms of its fit, comfort, and protection. It is made by a dental lab from a dentist’s impression of the athlete’s teeth. The final product is designed to fit the athlete’s mouth exactly. Because this is designed and fabricated to precisely fit the athlete, it is more comfortable and better able to cushion blows to the head, face and mouth. These are best in prevention of not only tooth injuries but also concussions. The custom guards are also available in variable thicknesses and can even be designed to coordinate with team uniforms and colors.
Boil and Bite Mouthguard:
The “boil and bite” style is “make at home” appliance. It is a thermoplastic mouth-formed protector and is usually softened by immersing it in hot water. It is then shaped to the teeth by using finger, tongue, and biting pressure. This type of mouthguard, however, may not fit as well as the custom-made version and are generally bulkier and of less durable material than the aforementioned custom guards.
The ready-made or stock mouthguard is found at most sporting good stores. It comes in several shapes and is constructed of rubber or polyvinyl material. However, because little can be done to adjust its fit, it may be uncomfortable and can interfere with breathing and speaking. These are similar to the “boil and bite” guards, but perhaps less well adapted to an athlete’s mouth.
A properly fitted mouthguard is especially important for those athletes who wear braces or have fixed bridge work. A blow to the face could damage the brackets or other fixed orthodontic appliances. A mouthguard also provides a barrier between the braces and your cheek or lips, limiting the risk of soft tissue injuries. Although mouthguards typically cover only the upper teeth, your dentist or orthodontist may recommend that you wear a mouthguard on your bottom teeth as well especially for athletes with upper and lower braces.
As with all other sports equipment, mouthguards can wear out, become lost, or deteriorate over time. The condition of the mouthguard should be evaluated from time to time to see if it needs replacement. Tears and perforations can irritate the teeth and mouth tissues. These defects and normal wear and tear also diminish the amount of protection the mouthguard can provide on the playing field.
As athletes grow, changes in tooth position and jaw size will also require changes in the mouthguard. The appliance should be checked by a dentist regularly to inspect for damage and to verify proper fit.
Protecting an athlete’s teeth and mouth is an effective way to protect against potential injuries and discomfort, and is a great means of ensuring proper overall health. The Massachusetts Dental Society’s Grin and Wear It (www.massdental.org) program provides information on participating member dentists, like us, that volunteer to fit school-aged children with custom-made mouthguards at a discount or nominal fee.