Injuries to the mouth and face are the number-one sports trauma, and a dental injury is not only painful and costly; it's also permanent. Fortunately, many mouth injuries can be prevented by wearing an athletic mouth protector—also called a mouthguard.
A mouthguard is a soft plastic appliance that fits over the teeth. When a properly designed mouthguard is worn, the lips, cheek, tongue and jaws are protected, as well as the teeth. The American Dental Association estimates that mouthguards prevent 200,000 injuries each year in high-school and college sports alone.
Most people are aware that sports mouthguards are mandatory for participation in high-contact sports such as football, boxing and hockey. But what many people don't realize is that the majority of mouth injuries occur in children between the ages of 7 and 14, often while participating in commonplace activities like skateboarding, rollerblading or bike riding! Mouthguards should be worn during all activities where there is a risk of falling or head contact, either with another player or a piece of equipment. The Academy for Sports Dentistry has identified 35 activities and sports in which mouthguards should be worn to prevent orofacial injury, including baseball, soccer, basketball, martial arts, skiing, volleyball and gymnastics.
The most common mouth injuries are broken or lost teeth, but a blow to the mouth or jaw can also cause:
concussions and cerebral hemorrhage
head and neck injuries
problems with the jaw joint
Choosing a mouthguard
There are three types of mouthguards available:
- ready-made stock mouthguards
- boil-and-bite mouthguards
- custom-made mouthguards
Stock mouthguards are used right off the shelf. No modifications are made to enhance or customize the fit, so they offer very little, if any, protection. They also tend to feel loose, bulky and uncomfortable, and interfere with breathing and speaking, so it's likely they'll just be left in the gym bag.
Boil-and-bite mouthguards fit somewhat better, because after they are purchased, their fit is enhanced somewhat by softening them in boiling water, then shaping them around teeth and allowing them to harden. However, this type of mouthguard also hampers speech and breathing, because the fit is not optimal. Furthermore, they aren't thick enough to provide adequate protection, and they become brittle after awhile so they need to be replaced relatively frequently.
Custom-made mouthguards are by far the best choice. For about the cost of a good pair of athletic shoes, custom mouthguards offer:
- sufficient thickness in critical areas, so protection is maximized
- the best possible fit and retention
- greater durability, which means less frequent replacement
Custom mouthguards are created specifically for you by professional technicians, using a material that is resilient, odorless and tasteless. To fabricate a custom-made mouthguard, on the first appointment, impressions of your teeth are made. From these impressions, models of your teeth are created. The mouthguard is fabricated on these models to ensure that the fit is precise. Then, on your next appointment, your mouthguard is tried in and adjusted as necessary to make sure protection and comfort are optimized.
While any mouthguard is better than none at all, a custom mouthguard is far more comfortable, so it's less likely to be left lying in the locker or the gym bag. They are also much more effective in preventing injuries, since they conform precisely to an individual's teeth. A custom mouthguard costs a bit more than off-the-shelf varieties, but their precise fit, comfort and excellent quality make them well worth the additional cost.