Importance of Mouthguards
Mouthguards play a crucial role in preventing injuries during sports and other physical recreational activities.
According to the American Dental Assistants' Association (ADAA), five million people suffer tooth loss each year in the U.S. as a result of sports mishaps – injuries that a mouthguard could have prevented.
The importance of mouthguards lies in their ability to cushion a blow to your face, which minimizes the risk of concussion, broken teeth and damage to the tongue, lips, jaw and cheek lining.
Failing to wear a mouthguard puts you at greater risk of common oral sports injuries such as:
- Cut lips and inner cheek.
- Tooth fractures.
- Tooth root damage.
- Broken jaw.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Damage to dental work such as crowns or bridges.
All sporting activities put participants at risk of dental trauma – the most common type of facial injury in sports.
Why and When You Need a Mouthguard
Mouth protectors are compulsory in professional hockey and football but can also provide vital protection for amateur players across multiple sports.
An essential piece of athletic kit, a mouth shield can help to keep you safe in both contact and non-contact sports, and statistics underscore the importance of mouthguards for sports at any level.
The American Dental Association (ADA) estimates that more than 30 percent of dental trauma occurs during sporting activities, resulting in 600,000 emergency room visits a year.
Further research reveals that:
- Almost one in 10 athletes sustain an oral injury.
- Three percent get knocked out.
- Over 50 percent of concussions occur in the absence of a mouthguard.
- Two million youngsters suffer sports-related tooth loss each year.
- Mouthguards could prevent 75 percent of high school sports injuries.
The ADA and the International Academy of Sports Dentistry (IASD) recommend mouthguards for a variety of sports, including:
- Martial arts.
- Field hockey and ice hockey.
- Water polo.
Are There Different Types of Mouthguards?
There are three types of mouthguards:
Ready-to-wear mouthguards (also called preformed or stock mouthguards) are available from many sports equipment outlets. They’re not recommended by dentists, who say these cheap mouth shields are cumbersome, impair speech and breathing, and give you little if any real protection.
Thermoplastic mouthguards (aka boil-and-bite mouthguards) are also available from sports goods stores and are designed for a better fit than ready-to-wear mouth shields. They become flexible in hot water so you can shape them around your teeth with tongue and finger pressure.
Custom-fitted mouthguards are made by dental professionals after an impression of your teeth has been taken. They cost more than ready-to-wear and thermoplastic mouth protectors but offer greater comfort and more protection.
Advantages of a Custom Mouthguard
A custom-made mouthguard is highly effective in absorbing the force of an impact to your mouth before it reaches your teeth, gums or jaw.
Mouthguards usually cover and protect the upper teeth only but custom mouthguards can be designed to shield the lower teeth as well. They can also be made with a hard outer layer and soft inner lining for extra comfort.
If another player or an object such as a racquet or a ball hits you in the face, or you fall onto a hard surface, your mouth protector will disperse the effect of the impact before it can cause serious damage.
According to the American Dental Association, the most effective mouth shields are those offered by dentists. The ADA adds that these customized mouthguards should be part of a standard sports kit to reduce the number and severity of sports-related dental injuries.
While over-the-counter mouth protectors may wear out after a few months, custom-made mouthguards typically last a year or more and keep their shape.
Other benefits of a custom mouth shield include:
- Snug and secure fit.
- No interference with breathing or speech.
- No bad taste or smell.
- Damage resistance.
- Ease of maintenance.
Need Help on Choosing a Mouthguard?
A mouthguard can dramatically lessen the risk of oral injuries and damage to your neck and head by absorbing the shock of impact.
A mouth shield should be worn by anyone of any age who plays a contact or non-contact sports or takes part in any leisure activity that could pose a risk of dental injury.
However, a mouth shield will only be effective if it fits properly, and several considerations need to be taken into account when choosing a mouthguard, including the likely level of impact involved in the sport you play or other recreational activities you enjoy.
A dentist specializing in custom mouthguards can explain your options and offer advice tailored to your specific needs.
If you are prone to grinding your teeth at night, a protective night guard can help to prevent damage to your teeth.
Mouthguards if You Grind Your Teeth
As well as providing protection from sports injuries, mouthguards can also be beneficial in cases of teeth grinding (bruxism).
Teeth grinding or clenching affects 30 million people in the U.S. and occurs most often during sleep. Causes include:
- Sleep disorders.
- Too much coffee or alcohol.
Wearing a nightguard is the most effective way to combat bruxism while you sleep.
How to Look After Your Custom Mouthguard
When you’re not using your mouthguard, it’s important to look after it properly.
- Brush your mouthguard with toothpaste and rinse well before and after each time you wear it.
- Clean your mouthguard frequently in cool, soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
- Take your mouthguard to your regular dental exams so your dentist can check its condition. The dentist may also be able to give it a professional cleaning.
- Store and transport your mouthguard in a robust container with air vents so it can dry properly to prevent bacteria growth.
- Never leave your mouthguard in direct sunlight.
- Check your mouthguard regularly for signs of wear and tear to see whether it needs replacing.
- Keep your mouthguard away from pets – they may think it’s a toy for chewing on!