What Are Sports Guards and Mouth Guards?
Sports guards, mouth guards and mouth protectors are different names for the same thing: a device worn over your teeth that protects them from blows to the face and head. Mouth guards are an important piece of athletic equipment for anyone participating in a sport that involves falls, body contact or flying equipment. This includes football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, skateboarding, gymnastics, mountain biking — any activity that might result in an injury to the mouth.
Mouth guards typically cover the upper teeth, and are designed to protect against broken teeth, cut lips and other damage to your mouth. If you wear braces or other fixed dental appliances (such as a bridge) on your lower jaw, your dentist may suggest a mouth protector for these teeth as well.
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:
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. Because they fit and feel better, most athletes prefer customized mouth guards. However, they are also the most expensive.
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. Follow the directions carefully to avoid winding up with a poor-fitting mouth guard.
Stock mouth guards — These are inexpensive and come pre-formed, ready to wear. Unfortunately, they often don't fit very well. They can be bulky and may make breathing and talking difficult.
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.
Important Reasons for Mouth Guards
A mouth guard is a soft plastic or laminate device used in sports to prevent oral injuries to the teeth, mouth, cheeks, tongue and jaw. The American Dental Association projects that one third of all dental injuries are sports related.1 The use of a mouth guard can prevent more than 200,000 oral injuries to the mouth each year.
The types of dental injuries that can occur without the use of a mouth guard are chipped or broken teeth, fractured crowns or bridgework, lip and cheek injuries, root damage to the teeth, fractured jaws, and concussions. Any athlete may be at risk for oral injury and any injury can be prevented with the use of a mouth guard.
Mouth guards are mandatory in collision sports such as football, hockey and boxing where the risk of injury is likely. Children and adults involved in incidental contact sports like basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, soccer and volleyball may consider wearing a mouth guard to prevent injuries to the mouth.
A study of high school athletes found that seventy-five percent of injuries occurred when mouth guards were not worn and forty percent occurred during baseball and basketball. Nine percent of all athletes suffered some type of oral injury while another three percent reported a loss of consciousness. Fifty-six percent of all concussions were suffered when mouth guards were not worn. Trauma related to sports is more prevalent than previously reported.2
Child or adult, a mouth guard is essential for all athletes. For more information about the right mouth guard for you, consult your dental professional.
Mouth Guards and Maintenance
Once you have had your mouth guard adjusted to fit your teeth you must learn to properly maintain your mouth guard. A mouth guard should only be worn during sport practices and games. Do not chew on the mouth guard because you could weaken the effectiveness of the plastic or laminated material.
Your dentist should make sure that your mouth guard does not have sharp edges because it could irritate or damage the gum tissue or cheeks. After wearing your mouth guard, check it for damage. If your mouth guard is damaged, replace it so it doesn’t irritate the gum tissue. Your mouth guard will last longer if you properly care for it.
After wearing your mouth guard, you should clean it with cool water and use your toothbrush and toothpaste to eliminate bacteria that may develop during usage. Rinse your mouth guard and place it in a container to keep it until the next practice or game at room temperature. Be sure to visit your dental professional for regular dental appointments and to discuss any concerns or questions you have regarding mouth guard usage in sports.
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